US GU-Short Essay 3-The Newark, New Jersey water crisis
Talk of a renaissance in Newark began soon after the 1967 riots ended. Still, by almost every indication, the city struggled through formidable hardships in the1970s and 1980s. The population dropped by about ﬁ fty thousand in each of those decades, and Newark failed to shake its reputation as the epitome of a ghetto. Voters eventually lost faith in Kenneth Gibson. The even-tempered mayor may have been the right man to steady the city during the divisive post-riot era, but after four terms in ofﬁ ce, Gibson seemed incapable of leading Newark to the next stage of recovery. The person voters chose to do just that was Sharpe James, a brash, boisterous councilman ﬁ rst elected alongside Mayor Gibson in 1970. The successes, challenges, and controversies of the early James years are the subject of chapter 8.
While Sharpe James was undoubtedly an outspoken and inﬂ uential cheer- leader for Newark, he also faced nearly constant criticism from inside and outside the city. Most of the gripes centered on the heavy-handed methods used by James to retain power, as well as highly publicized government corruption scandals that occurred under the mayor’s watch. Several council members and a pair of top James aides would be convicted of federal crimes in the 1990s. Observers increasingly questioned why crime rates weren’t lower, why the public schools were so remarkably dysfunctional, and why residents couldn’t see the impact of Newark’s widely heralded “renaissance” in their neighborhoods. People also wondered how Mayor James, a three- decades-plus veteran public servant, could afford a yacht and millions of dollars worth of real estate. Chapter 9 covers the bitter battles of an upstart reform-minded newcomer named Cory Booker to wrest the mayoralty away from James, who by the mid-1990s was New Jersey’s most powerful African American politician. 209 PART III rebirthTuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 210rebirth The Booker years, described in chapter 10, have not been without troubles.
A group of frustrated city workers and diehard Sharpe James supporters led a short-lived campaign to recall Mayor Booker. The gruesome, execution- style murders of three young Newarkers caught national headlines. Despite drastic changes in the police department, the city’s overall murder rate remained exceptionally high during Booker’s ﬁ rst full year in ofﬁ ce. Even so, the concept of a Newark renaissance has become undeniable. The city was simply too valuable a hub for transportation and commerce to remain tangled in despair and economic malaise forever. With a new downtown arena, a hot real estate market, a fresh sense of hipness about the city, a charismatic, widely beloved mayor in City Hall, and a population that at long last is growing, all signs indicate Newark will continue to blossom.Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 211 8 Sharpe Change a new mayor charts the meandering road to recovery In Newark, as in most cities, one sure way of telling that an ethnic group had arrived as a signiﬁ cant political force was the election of one of its own as mayor. Newark’s Irish, Jews, and Italians successively took great pride when someone within their ranks ﬁ nally seized the reins of power at City Hall.
No group had ever been as sharply and widely discriminated against as African Americans, and arguably no group ever felt as strong a sense of glory as Newark’s black community did when Ken Gibson was elected.
The1970 run for mayor was not simply another political campaign. It was a cause—locally and nationally—taken up with almost religious fervor.
And when the ﬁ rst African American was at long last given charge of the city, there was no understating the hope in the hearts of Newark’s people of color. As Gustav Heningburg, TV host and political advisor to Gibson and other mayors, put it, the overly simplistic feeling during the 1970 election amounted to: “All we need is a black mayor and Monday morning he will solve all our problems.” 1 The black and Puerto Rican coalition had battled vigorously to take over Newark government. Ken Gibson and Newark’s new leaders understood the city they had won was troubled, but over the years it became apparent they’d underestimated just how dreadful the conditions truly were. The people who had pushed Gibson into ofﬁ ce had also overestimated the inexperienced new administration’s ability to deal with Newark’s long list of deeply entrenched problems.
During the Gibson years, African American leaders succeeded in switching the names of some schools and streets to reﬂ ect their culture and heritage.
High Street, for example, became Martin Luther King Boulevard; schools were rechristened in honor of black heroes such as Marcus Garvey, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. Yet ﬁ guring out how to affect deeper institutional Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 212rebirth changes to the city’s business structure, school system, and neighborhoods was far more complicated.
Newark’s African Americans may have united to elect Ken Gibson, but the idea that there was consensus in the black community as to which direction the city should pursue was a myth. Mayor Gibson, for example, opposed groups seeking to ﬂ y the black liberation ﬂ ag at public schools, as well as the insertion of the names of black heroes at the expense of historic Newarkers such as Robert Treat. “Why change names?” asked Gibson. “Why change Robert Treat, the founder of Newark? You can’t change history by changing names.” 2 Gibson, who made his career largely as a compromiser, was also criticized incessantly by hard-line African Americans disgusted by what they perceived as the mayor’s constant appeasement of Newark’s Italians, corporations, and other interests.
In many ways, the city’s predicaments were too large and too numerous for the community to solve by itself—especially in a city as divided as Newark.
As a result, by almost any measure, Newark in the Ken Gibson era fell into worse shape than it had been in the tumultuous, corrupt 1960s.
The population dropped by ﬁ fty thousand between the 1970 and 1980 censuses. Statistics from the early 1980s showed that about one-third of Newark residents lived in poverty, compared to 22.5 percent in 1970. During the ten years after the riots, while employment rose dramatically in nearly all of New Jersey, including Essex County as a whole, one out of four jobs in Newark disappeared. About two-thirds of the jobs remaining in Newark were held by people living outside the city. Dozens of companies found it impossible to stay in business in Newark, including several once-stalwart institutions closely associated with the city. The Newark Evening News ceased operations in 1972, as did brewer P. Ballantine & Sons, closing its thirty-eight- acre Ironbound plant. Orhbach’s and Hahne’s department stores deserted the city, and while Bamberger’s remained, it downgraded the quality of its goods to match the limited buying power of its changing customer base. Grand Union grocery store executives, in a trend-setting move copied by other supermarket chains, decided that there was not much money to be made in the inner city and closed all of its Newark locations. 3 When a 1973 study revealed that Newark had the poorest housing condi- tions of all large U.S. cities, Robert Notte, the new Newark Housing Authority director, could do little other than call the ﬁ ndings “very valid.” 4 At the time, the NHA was struggling to summon up money owed to PSE&G, which had contacted federal authorities and threatened to cut off service at city housing projects. Public-housing residents refused to pay rent in a long, drawn-out strike unless the awful, dangerous living conditions were remedied. More Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change213 than ten thousand Newarkers signed a petition requesting that the Columbus Homes be phased out and demolished; some 20 percent of the project’s units had already been abandoned, even though the complex was less than twenty years old. 5 Private homeowners hadn’t fared much better. Thousands of houses were destroyed to make way for I-78 and various urban-renewal projects. From 1972 to 1976, Newark foreclosed on more than a thousand homes annually, on average, compared to about a hundred per year in the late 1960s. A depressed real estate market, combined with thousands of ﬁ res, resulted in an overall 12 percent drop in assessed value of property in Newark; during that same period, values skyrocketed in the suburbs. 6 Hundreds of experienced teachers grew disgusted by tense battles with colleagues and the board of education, as well as the increase in drugs, violence, and disrespect in schools. Teachers by the dozen either used connections to assume responsibilities with limited student interaction or left Newark alto- gether. To ﬁ ll the openings left behind, the race-conscious board heavily recruited people of color who oftentimes were not qualiﬁ ed. By the end of the 1970s, about half of Newark’s public-school teachers were not certiﬁ ed. 7 The city’s ﬁ nances deteriorated steadily. Public universities and other tax- exempt entities accounted for about two-thirds of the land within Newark’s borders. Corporations were increasingly offered tax abatements as entice- ments to keep operations in the city. Property owners who did pay taxes were incapable of covering the bills for police protection, schools, and other municipal services. Many owners had already “torched” or abandoned their buildings rather than try to keep up with the exorbitant tax rates. Bloated city-agency budgets certainly didn’t help the situation. Federal executives criticized the NHA as “wasteful” and “top-heavy” and threatened to pull funds unless Newark’s housing agency streamlined operations. 8 The school budget ballooned from $30 million in 1960 to over $150 million by the end of the1970s. 9 Facing imminent ﬁ nancial collapse, the Gibson administration increas- ingly looked to handouts from state and federal sources. In ﬁ scal year 1978–1979, for example, the state covered 64 percent of the cost of Newark’s school system, and federal funds kicked in another 10 percent. By contrast, state aid covered only 14 percent of Newark’s school budget in 1960–1961. 10 No matter how much money poured into the city, however, Mayor Gibson seemed powerless to alter Newark’s image as an urban jungle. Racial views and distorted media coverage certainly contributed to the perception, but many people came to the same conclusions based on what they’d seen with their own eyes. “There is almost no way to enter Newark without facing Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 214rebirth the fact that the city needs some work—badly,” wrote a New Jersey Monthly contributor—in a 1979 issue dedicated to praising the city’s “real, live, honest- to-God renaissance,” no less. (Cover headline: “Surprise! Some Nice Words about Newark.”) “McCarter Highway goes past some smelly industrial plants that turn the stomach. Ditto Raymond Boulevard. But even this is better than a westward approach. South Orange Avenue, Springﬁ eld Avenue—these two arteries take cars past sights that turn the mind and the spirit.” 11 Stanley Winters, an urban-history professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, in a New York Times article from the era entitled “Newark: Don’t Let It Die,” recounted one of his journeys into the city via the N0.25 bus, the same Springﬁ eld Avenue route upon which bus driver John Graybush was killed in 1971. “It’s a strange world of ghostly shops, battle-scarred buildings and bygone people,” Winters wrote of the Central Ward scenery. “There is something for everybody: charred storefronts, plywood windows, broken glass, iron shutters, illegible signs worn by weather and age.” 12 “Newark has the will to ﬁ ght, but it can’t go it alone,” Winters wrote. “The basic problem is whether her immediate neighbors, and indeed the whole society, are prepared to share the task of helping it face the 21st century.” The public soon tired of dumping money into cities such as Newark, however. Conservative politicians often pointed out that the hundreds of millions funneled into America’s cities in the 1970s had yielded few tangible, lasting improvements. Newark had used federal and state money to hire hundreds of new police ofﬁ cers, bringing the department to an all-time peak in1974 of 1,640 cops, or 4.7 ofﬁ cers for every thousand residents—one of the nation’s highest ratios for large cities, which averaged 3.4 cops per thousand people. Despite the increased police force, Newark crime rates decreased only marginally. In a 1977 survey, a quarter of Newarkers said they had personally witnessed a crime in the preceding year. In the Central Ward, over one-third of residents said they’d seen a crime committed, though only 10 percent of those actually called the police. 13 As popular sentiment turned against cities, funds that Gibson had been accustomed to receiving evaporated, and the mayor didn’t have a viable Plan B. After federal cutbacks in 1978, Gibson announced layoffs of 450 city employees, including 225 cops. Police ofﬁ cers protested by calling in sick and spreading rumors of a strike. After one Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association union meeting, the windows of forty-six police vehicles were mysteriously shattered. “If that is the only way they can alert the public to our problem,” said the PBA president, while admitting no wrongdoing, “then it is a necessary evil.” Nonetheless, the layoffs took effect on New Year’s Day of 1979. 14Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change215 Whenever Mayor Gibson was called out for doing too little for Newark— and he heard the criticism constantly—he responded by pointing out that all cities struggled. Newark’s troubles were no different from those of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and other cities. No mayor could snap his ﬁ ngers and solve his city’s problems. Sustained effort was the only solution, Gibson maintained, and who better than him to guide the way? Lately, he had taken up running marathons, a sport that perfectly suited his grinding approach. “I don’t assault problems,” said Gibson. “I wear them down. In times of crisis, my pulse rate slows down.” 15 After four years of Ken Gibson as mayor, 80 percent of residents in a 1974 survey said they’d seen no improvement in Newark. Perhaps even more disturbing, 28 percent of whites and 36 percent of blacks wished to move out of the city. Even so, most people did not seem to blame Mayor Gibson.
Nearly two-thirds of African Americans and about 40 percent of whites gave him favorable job ratings. Voters, in turn, tended to give their low-key, steady, if uninspiring, mayor the beneﬁ t of the doubt, electing him easily to second and third terms. Gibson outdistanced opponents with majority votes in the 1974 and 1978 primaries, meaning there was no need for a runoff in either year. In 1978, soon after serving as president of the U.S. Council of Mayors, the heavily favored Gibson netted a whopping 70 percent of the vote. 16 Gibson, like any politician, often pointed out the achievements during his years in ofﬁ ce. Gateway I and II, a pair of multimillion-dollar high-rise ofﬁ ce complexes built on urban-renewal land around Pennsylvania Station, had been completed in the early 1970s. Prudential and PSE&G never abandoned the city, as many had expected them to do; PSE&G even built a slick new glass tower across from Military Park to serve as its downtown headquarters.
In 1977, Newark established its ﬁ rst historic district, west of Washington Park along James Street, where dozens of brick Victorian homes were being renovated, just as similar old neighborhoods were being ﬁ xed up in Hoboken and Jersey City. Thousands of Portuguese immigrants reinvigorated the Ironbound, restoring homes and opening restaurants, travel agencies, and other businesses.
Many Gibson-era improvements came with caveats, however. Glass- enclosed tubes connected the train station and the two Gateway buildings, so that commuting ofﬁ ce workers wouldn’t ever have to set foot on the street. The design gave added heft to Newark’s reputation as a dangerous place in which unusual measures were necessary to keep people safe.
Prudential and PSE&G hadn’t deserted Newark, but both companies employed far fewer workers in the city in the early 1980s compared to a decade earlier. Progress in the James Street historic district occurred at a Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 216rebirth snail’s pace, with buildings haphazardly refurbished over the course of a decade. The revamping of James Street and the Ironbound were also largely self-contained. Improvements failed to spread to surrounding areas, and in many ways residents even at these desirable addresses had the same prob- lems as people in other parts of town. Burglaries and car thefts plagued James Street homeowners for years; some residents emptied their vehicles of car seats and other items nightly and even left their car doors open rather than have thieves break in and damage their cars. “We could use a grocery store,” said one James Street resident, offering a complaint to be heard for decades. More problematic, after years of extensive urban-renewal projects had decimated Newark’s old neighborhoods, the city didn’t have many other areas worthy of restoring. 17 By the fall of 1981, the widespread perception was that Ken Gibson had lost his energy and sense of mission. “I’m not a manager of hope,” Gibson said, always the realist, always ready to point out the limits of his power. “I’m a manager of resources.” 18 The mayor seemed eager to move on. He entered the Democratic primary for governor and came in a respectable third. Crime rates spiked in 1980 and 1981, and Gibson vehemently denied there was any correlation between the increase and recent cuts in the police department. 19 The unthinkable had also occurred. A genuine scandal tarnished the repu- tation of Ken Gibson—the industrious fellow who earned his engineering degree over a dozen years of night school, the teetotaler who never stayed out late, the man who many viewed as the lone honest ﬁ gure in Newark politics.
In July of 1981, vandals stole a valve from Newark’s far-ﬂ ung water system, and a pipe burst as a result. In the aftermath, a tidbit of information leaked:
years beforehand, in a patronage appointment aimed at gaining favor with Italian city council members, Mayor Gibson had hired a former councilman, Michael Bontempo, as chief of security for the city’s water supply system. The main problem with Bontempo, who collected $115,000 over seven years in his post, was that he was rarely ever in Newark, or even in New Jersey. He lived in Florida. 20 To much of Newark’s black community, the scandal was symptomatic of a large problem they had with Ken Gibson. The mayor had turned his back on his base, critics said. He spent far too much time trying to please the Italians, the city council, insurance executives, developers, and federal ofﬁ cials rather than dealing with housing or poverty or other issues important to his African American constituents. The aloof, sullen mayor always seemed to be out of town or unavailable, they grumbled. As early as the mid-1970s, community leaders complained the mayor allowed cronyism and political maneuvering to take precedence over reform. “Gibson is up in the Gateway Center eating,” Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change217 one said. “He’s fat now. In 1969 he was out in the street with us—talking about the people needed housing.” 21 Mayor Gibson offered few apologies for his distant demeanor, ﬂ atly saying, “If I tried to talk with everyone my work would never get done.” 22 In his campaign for an unprecedented fourth term, Gibson bragged about the city’s latest coup, in which Prudential would soon break ground on Gateway III, an eighteen-story glass ofﬁ ce tower. (Again, there were caveats:
the building would have elevated walkways like the other Gateway structures, and the contract stipulated that Prudential receive a ﬁ fteen-year property tax break. 23) Many of Newark’s African Americans were frustrated with the mayor’s policies and personality, but were unsure where else to turn.
“Things have happened in Newark that, if they happened under a white administration, the people would be rioting in the streets and saying, ‘Hey, whitey don’t care,’” said Councilman Sharpe James. “Now people don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to ﬁ ght a black administration.” 24 The charismatic James, in his typically colorful turn of phrase, explained black voters’ evolution during the Gibson era: “They danced in the streets in 1970.
They walked to the polls in 1974, and they crawled to the polls in 1978. There’s been an erosion of voter support. Their quiet protest is they simply do not come out and vote.” 25 Leading up the May 1982 election, Gibson ran his standard, realistic—pessi- mistic, some might say—campaign which essentially said: “I’m as good as Newark voters can expect.” “We have not solved all the problems of Newark,” the incumbent said, “but I dare say nobody could in 12 years, and nobody will be able to do it in the next 12 years.” 26 Gibson failed to win a majority of votes in the general election, as he had in his previous two runs for mayor. He faced the second-place ﬁ nisher, City Council President Earl Harris, in a June runoff.
“Newark voters face a depressing choice,” a Times editorial stated. At the time, both the incumbent and his challenger were under indictment for conspiracy and misconduct due to the hiring of Michael Bontempo in the no-show water-system job. (Council President Harris had signed off on the patronage post as well.) They were “also parties to stagnant and ineffective leadership,” theTimes stated. “Newark’s schools are worse than ever, crime is rampant and city government, if generally less corrupt, hardly well managed.” 27 Gibson edged Harris with 52 percent of the vote to win a fourth term.
Later that year, a deadlocked jury caused a mistrial for charges related to the Bontempo episode, and Gibson’s indictment was thrown out. Despite a some- what sullied reputation, Gibson remained mayor and a formidable political power with broad, well-organized support. But the mayor’s struggles—the patronage scandal, the crime increase, the stalled economy, the public’s Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 218rebirth growing impatience with the mayor’s blank, unenthusiastic persona— exposed weaknesses that the right candidate could target and attack.
On paper, not much differentiated Ken Gibson from Sharpe James. Both were moderate Democrats in their ﬁ fties who had been educated in Newark public schools and New Jersey colleges and who were endorsed by the original Black and Puerto Rican Political Convention. They’d assumed their ﬁ rst political ofﬁ ces as allies in 1970—Gibson as mayor, James as South Ward councilman—and occupied rooms one ﬂ oor away from each other in City Hall.
By the early 1980s, however, their career trajectories were heading in opposite directions. While support for Ken Gibson ﬁ zzled, Sharpe James’s popularity soared. In 1978, no candidate even bothered to oppose the heavy favorite South Ward incumbent. Four years later, James received more votes than any other council candidate and became the ﬁ rst ward representative to move up to an at-large council position.
The personalities of the two men could also not have been more different:
Gibson, the quiet, white-haired engineer, versus James, the trim, strong-jawed athlete and coach with the quick wit and winning, gap-toothed smile. During the1970 campaign, Gibson focused on delivering services and restoring a sense of trust and honesty in City Hall. James, who had been a ﬁ nalist in the 1960 Olympic track tryouts, handed out leaﬂ ets listing his record as track coach during his last year at West Side High School (“crushed Irvington 17–44 . . . trounced Barringer 21–36”). Gibson ran marathons and was happy to complete the race. James played tennis, often arriving at city meetings in sneakers and sweat suits, and always asked for a rematch in the rare case he’d lost. Whereas Gibson earned a reputation for being distant and humorless, the gregarious, back-slapping James worked crowds relentlessly and seldom turned down an opportunity to engage a would-be supporter. “Sharpe James is ready 24 hours a day to meet and explore a possible solution to the problem at hand,” a campaign ﬂ yer stated. “His home at 38 Wilbur Avenue is under the open door policy.” Gibson spent much of his time shaking hands in Washington and Trenton, attempting to attract federal and state aid. James instead always seemed ready to leap into action in Newark, physically if need be. Frustrated that a large portion of African Americans and Puerto Ricans were failing the police department’s physical exam, James himself took the test (and passed). 28 Even their names spoke volumes about their respective styles—one mundane, the other “Sharpe!” In his 1982 run for a fourth term, Ken Gibson promised no major innova-Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change219 tions to his approach of steady leadership—and on that account the mayor delivered. Newark basically received more of the same. In the past, Newarkers had applauded Gibson’s “calmness.” After more than a dozen years with Gibson at the helm of a middling, crime-ridden city, however, the word tossed around more frequently was “lethargy.” 29 The mayor had also grown increasingly powerless, as he often pointed out himself. Since coming into ofﬁ ce, Gibson had lost control of school- board appointments. Board of education members were now chosen by the public—in elections in which, as it turned out, less than 10 percent of registered voters actually cast ballots. Those who voted were more often than not union members themselves, and as a result, “The board is completely controlled by the union,” Gibson said. 30 In 1985, despite the appalling failure of Newark’s educators, the board approved record-breaking salary increases for teachers, totaling 23 percent over three years, among other perks. Gibson accused the board of “surrendering its management prerogatives,” but could do nothing to stop them. 31 Through the mid-1980s, Newark’s tax rates hovered at around $12 per $100 of assessed valuation, one of the highest rates in New Jersey, up 50 percent compared to the Addonizio era. 32 Mayor Gibson, when asked about solutions to tax issues and economic woes, said, “Our job is to pick up the garbage, sweep the streets and provide some measure of police and ﬁ re protection, and we can barely do that.” His administration seemed to have no answers for Newark’s troubles. “What can police do about poverty?” said Police Director Hubert Williams, when asked about ways to crack down on street crime.
“What can police do about unemployment?” Alfred Faiella, a young Gibson aide who would become a player in Newark politics through the millennium, offered a non-solution solution, inadvertently pointing out the hopelessness of the Gibson era. “Me, I pray for another gas crisis,” he said. That way, he ﬁ gured, people would be forced to commute via public transportation to jobs in hubs like Newark, rather than drive to work in the suburbs. 33 Frustrated that the city was either too overwhelmed or too inept to help the people, more and more community and faith-based groups took matters into their own hands. Saint Benedict’s, the central Newark prep school that was founded in 1868 and educated successive white ethnic groups, closed brieﬂ y in the troubled early 1970s, then reopened with a new sense of mission to recruit local African American and Latino students—who ﬂ ourished in sports and academics, with extraordinarily large percentages going on to higher education. Organizations such as La Casa de Don Pedro and Steve Adubato’s North Ward Educational and Cultural Center established day care centers, job-training programs, and children’s baseball leagues.Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 220rebirth The New Community Corporation (NCC), Newark’s most wide-reaching nonproﬁ t agency, was born in the aftermath of the 1967 riots. William Linder, a young priest at Queen of Angels Catholic Church in the Central Ward, founded the organization in the church basement with a small group of parishioners and board members. After raising $100,000 from donors and the state Jaycees, NCC purchased two acres of mostly vacant Central Ward land and began inviting poor families to help design their own houses. By 1975, residents moved into 120 handsome low-income, low-rise apartment buildings surrounding a playground. Despite the NCC’s positive impact on the neighborhood, politicians and black militants often criticized Linder and his organization. The NCC didn’t play according to the rules set by local powerbrokers, and it embarrassed politicians by doing work that should have fallen under the government’s domain. Supporters of the NCC were occasionally threatened for their involvement with the organization. Yet the group managed to dramatically expand its operations over the years, eventually growing into the largest nonproﬁ t agency in New Jersey. By 1990, NCC and its subsidiaries had opened more than two thousand housing units and a Pathmark supermarket on Bergen Street, as well as the Priory, a Southern-style restaurant that hosted jazz musicians in the back of an old church on West Market Street. 34 As city government continued to prove ineffectual, people who were once among Mayor Gibson’s most ardent supporters also increasingly tired of his tortoiselike approach. What was a prudent course during the unruly 1970s seemed outdated and unproductive in the fast-paced, enterprising 1980s.
Perhaps an aggressive, energetic character such as Sharpe James—the hare to Gibson’s tortoise—could boost the city’s image and jump-start new life into its blighted streets.
James had grown increasingly critical of his old ally, Mayor Gibson. “Many of us have no conﬁ dence in this administration,” James said in a 1984 housing discussion. At the time, 15 percent of Newarkers—22,500 people—lived in public housing, and 6,500 more languished on waiting lists. Yet, because of funding problems and mismanagement, one-third of Newark’s existing public-housing units were uninhabitable and therefore they lay vacant. 35 James entered the 1986 run for mayor, telling voters “Newark Needs a Sharpe Change.” He dared Gibson to visit the Columbus Homes or other projects and ask residents what they thought of the mayor’s performance.
James, whose seventeen-year-old son, John, had recently been robbed and shot in the leg while waiting for a bus, also hammered away at Gibson for doing little to solve Newark’s high crime rates, among other issues. “We have 70,000 fewer people than in 1970,” James said. “Newark is now Fear City and Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change221 Dope City, with the prostitutes and drug pushers operating all over the city at all hours.” 36 Even so, the mayor remained the favorite, with the Gibson machine reaping in over $400,000 in campaign funds, more than double the amount raised by James. Gibson posters far outnumbered those calling for the elec- tion of James—especially in the North Ward, where the mayor, once viewed as a savior of Newark’s people of color, now had the loyal support of North Ward Italians, including the controversial Anthony Imperiale. 37 Sharpe James, as a sixteen-year veteran city councilman, shared respon- sibility with the mayor for Newark’s laggard economy and other troubles, and offered no groundbreaking solutions in his campaign. He wanted to increase the number of police ofﬁ cers, improve housing, and lower unem- ployment—all steps Gibson also wished to take should there be public money to do so. “Mr. James may be more energetic than Mr. Gibson, but he seems no more imaginative,” a Times editorial stated. 38 To voters, however, James’s energy, style, and charisma—and, more importantly, the fact that he clearly wasn’t Ken Gibson—were apparently enough. The challenger soundly beat the incumbent in the May election, netting 55 percent of the overall vote, meaning no runoff would be necessary. 39 “This is not a victory for Sharpe James—this is a victory for Newark residents,” said James on election night. “They have issued a mandate for a better life in Newark.” 40 That life included ordinary neighborhood amenities like grocery stores and movie theaters, which James promised to deliver once he was mayor. (At election time, Newark had just one of the former and only X-rated versions of the latter.) From the beginning, James also stated his intention to get a downtown arena built, as sure a sign as any to the former coach and track star that a city was prospering. 41 On inauguration night in Symphony Hall, James, wearing oversized, black-framed glasses that were in style at the time, took his oath resting a hand on the Bible held by his wife, Mary. In his speech, which was inter- rupted by applause thirty-ﬁ ve times, Mayor James stressed the importance of family values, morality, and responsibility in government. He spoke playfully, with lyrical phrases similar to those of the nation’s leading African American ﬁ gure, Jesse Jackson. “We must crack down on crack,” said James, calling attention to the latest, most dangerous inner-city drug of choice. “Will power must replace pill power…. We must turn to each other and not on each other.” 42 In ways big and small, the mayor promised to revamp the city’s image and bring a new sense of dignity, honor, and pride to City Hall. He vowed to establish a strict code of ethics for all ofﬁ cials, and mandated courteous Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 222rebirth phone manners and proper dress codes among city workers. That included James himself, who traded in his shorts and tennis shoes for sleek pin- striped suits. 43 The election of James hadn’t been heralded with quite the level of “We Shall Overcome” optimism present in 1970. Still, Mayor James offered Newark something that his predecessor hadn’t been able to summon in years. “Our victory,” said James, “provides hope for all who share a belief in a better tomorrow.” 44 “Are you ready?” shouted Mayor Sharpe James, wearing a tuxedo and top hat, his voice booming into a microphone. “Yeah!” came the response from the Meadowlands’ Brendan Byrne Arena, which was ﬁ lled with excited, squirming youngsters from Newark, all staring at their dashing new mayor.
“Are you ready?” the man in the spotlight cried out again, pumping up the crowd. “Yeah-h-h-h!” the people cheered. 45 “Now, on with the Greatest Show on Earth!” James bellowed. He tooted a whistle and out whirled jugglers, elephants, acrobats, unicyclists, and clowns.
This night, in the fall of 1986, the mayor served in a role he seemed born to play: honorary ringmaster for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s “Newark’s Night at the Circus.” Sharpe James relished being the carnival barker in the center of the circus— at Brendan Byrne Arena and, in a larger sense, as Newark’s most boisterous and prominent cheerleader. From the beginning, there was no mistaking the new mayor for the staid, old killjoy Ken Gibson. Mayor James established himself as the anti-Gibson, socializing, cracking jokes, making appearances, and tossing around hugs and high-ﬁ ves. Everywhere James went, comments followed to the effect of: “You’d never see Ken Gibson do that.” 46 Nothing seemed capable of holding the upbeat, hard-charging Mayor James back. At the reopening celebration of a South Ward grocery store—no minor occasion in Newark—James trolled the aisles for a ribbon and scissors, which no one thought to bring for the ceremonial cutting. “All right, we need shoelaces or a ribbon,” James said, hustling through the frozen foods section. “Or maybe we’ll put a body across the door and cut it. Hey,” James said, joshing one shopper, “can we put you across the door?” The mayor himself wound up darting across the street to borrow scissors from a day care center. 47 On the strength of his personality, political savvy, and sheer will, the relent- less Mayor James cultivated “a sense that good things are about to happen” in Newark, according to a Times editorial assessing his ﬁ rst months in ofﬁ ce. 48Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change223 “If nothing else,” James said, “we’ve created a new sense of excitement about being in Newark. We’ve given a new direction. We’ve been very visible.
We’ve been very active.” 49 Most businessmen, residents, and observers seemed to agree that with Sharpe James as mayor, a brighter future lay ahead. Even outlandish plans seemed possible. Six weeks after James was sworn into ofﬁ ce, a diminutive forty-ﬁ ve-year-old developer named Harry Grant pulled into Newark with a proposal to construct the tallest building in the world, a 121-story structure with a green and golden façade. The Grant USA Tower, he wanted to call it.
Born in Iraq as Uri Chvavis, he lived in Israel and Canada before settling in the mid-1970s in New Jersey’s Bergen County. He fancied the name Harry Grant after spotting it in a phone book, and duly took it for his own. Grant navigated his way into the construction business and built shopping centers and upscale homes, primarily in northern New Jersey. 50 Yet Harry Grant always had much bigger dreams. Occasionally, he pondered the likelihood of building malls and ofﬁ ce complexes in outer space. In 1984, the man who always griped about trafﬁ c on the George Washington Bridge put together a proposal to build a ﬁ ve-mile tunnel (“The Grant Tunnel,” natu- rally) beneath the Hudson River just north of the bridge. The Port Authority rejected the vague plan as infeasible. At a public auction, Grant scooped up Newark’s abandoned crumbling old Central Railroad depot, just north of City Hall, for $1.2 million. It was here that Grant wanted to build his tower, along with a complex that included three million square feet of ofﬁ ce space, a ﬁ ve-hundred-room hotel, piano bar, observation deck, convention center, parking garage, and a sixty-thousand-square-foot mall adorned in Italianate marble. The Renaissance Mall, it was dubbed, signifying the city’s rebirth. 51 “I have half a billion dollars ready and waiting,” Grant said at the time. 52 People were skeptical about the ﬁ gures Grant quoted—he seemed to under- estimate costs for construction and what the tower would have to charge for ofﬁ ce space—but such creative accounting seemed typical of many cocksure entrepreneurs. As signs of good faith, Grant personally paid to cover City Hall’s dome in twenty-four-karat gold and spruce up parts of downtown with ﬂ ags and new brick sidewalks, all the while he was negotiating for tax abatements, permits, and other arrangements with the city. One year, he donated a ﬁ ve-story Christmas tree to be erected outside City Hall. 53 The developer won people over with his swagger and free-spending ways. Like Newark’s mayor, Grant was prone to talking about himself in third person. “No one in the United States can bid against Harry Grant,” the man rumored to come from a rich Baghdad family would say. 54 Also like Sharpe James, Grant was one to indulge in silly word play to woo Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 224rebirth support. “Everything I do is ‘granted,’” he’d say with a wink through his oversized glasses. 55 According to Grant, the mall would be completed by 1987, and the tower would open in 1991. Held back by transit studies and ﬁ nancing issues, however, the project remained hypothetical well into late 1980s. Still, Mayor James, the city council, and the chamber of commerce heralded the coming of “Hurricane” Harry. Greater Newark: A Microcosm of America, a book published by the chamber in 1989, promoted Grant’s mall as “the newest jewel of the downtown shopping district.” 56 Within a few years in ofﬁ ce, Sharpe James could point to some tangible signs of his city’s successes. Between 1980 and 1988, housing prices rose 50 percent, not as sharp an increase as the 300 percent gains in Jersey City or Hoboken, but a respectable gain nonetheless. Unemployment in Newark circa 1988 stood at 7.9 percent, still double the state average, but a signiﬁ cant drop from the 12.2 percent it had been when James took ofﬁ ce. Property-tax collection rates improved from a dismal 80 percent to 95 percent by 1990. The market for ofﬁ ce space had gotten new life due to decisions by companies like Blue Cross–Blue Shield, which moved twenty-ﬁ ve hundred workers from the suburbs to downtown Newark. The state had also approved plans for a $180 million arts center to be built in downtown Newark. 57 Riding the wave of economic progress, Sharpe James cruised to a second term in the 1990 election. In an unprecedented turn of affairs, no one dared oppose him.
Even with a dominant hold on City Hall, Mayor James seemed powerless to solve many problems that were deeply entrenched in Newark’s ﬁ ber. The Gibson administration, like Hugh Addonizio’s people before them, had played with the city’s ﬁ nancial statements leading up to the 1986 election, and the $30 million surplus that Gibson had bragged about suddenly turned into a $20 million deﬁ cit once Sharpe James became mayor. James sent layoff notices to thousands of city workers and successively raised tax rates to uncharted new highs: $14.46 per $100 of value in 1988, up to $16.98 by 1991.
That year, the mayor threatened to raise rates to $19.90, meaning a property owner would pay taxes equivalent to the total value of his home in a little over ﬁ ve years. Newark’s public schools seemed on the verge of collapse, despite the fortune being dumped into the system. In 1990, for example, the board of education passed a school budget topping $420 million; it had been $247 million as recently as 1984. The 1990 budget accounting for all other city services and personnel, by contrast, totaled $346 million. About 50 percent of Newark public-school students didn’t complete high school, and a state takeover, threatened for years, seemed more and more likely. 58Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change225 Newark’s crime problems never faded. The city’s reputation for street crime actually worsened during the James years. From the late 1980s through the early 1990s, Newark held the dubious distinction as “the nation’s car-theft capital.” Later, Newark became the “carjacking capital of the world” when that phenomena made news in the early 1990s. Irvington generally held the nation’s second highest car-theft rate, and Elizabeth, another of Newark’s bordering towns, ranked in the top ten. “Driving a car has become akin to taking a stagecoach across the Wild West,” one assemblyman from Orange said while pushing for tougher penalties. 59 By November of 1992,111 people had been killed that year in the Newark area in car-theft related incidents. Perhaps most disturbing, more than half the thieves in Newark were juveniles: 57 percent of those caught were under seventeen, and some were as young as ten. The situation grew so out of control that at one point the city purchased 1,750 anti-car theft devices, and Mayor James conducted random drawings to give them away to residents. 60 To combat the city’s dire crime problems, James hired a street-savvy, twenty-ﬁ ve-year veteran of the Boston police department named William Celester as police director. Celester, who came to Newark in 1991, had once been a teenage gangster who went by the name “Blast” and ran in Boston’s poor Roxbury area with a crew called the Marseille Dukes. He spent several months in jail in his teens before eventually turning his life around and working his way through the ranks of Boston’s police force. With his back- ground, Celester could identify with Newark’s troubled youths and therefore better handle them, it was believed. Celester’s life story was also held up as an example which Newark kids might try to emulate. 61 Those children were increasingly likely to be poor, despite Newark’s well- publicized revitalization. A study by the antipoverty group United Commu- nity Corporation (UCC) showed that the percentage of poor families in Newark rose in every ward between 1970 and 1990: from 15.5 to 22 percent in the North Ward, for example, and from 30.8 to 34.5 percent in the Central Ward. Of the thousands who had left the city, about three-quarters disap- peared from the impoverished, predominantly black Central and South wards, which had respectively lost about ten thousand and twenty thousand residents. Newark’s so-called renaissance hadn’t touched these people, or the struggling poor who remained in the city. One photojournalist working in the mid and late 1980s chose to document the Central Ward as the epitome of a slum, where moms stayed up through the night so rats wouldn’t bite their children, and where an eight-year-old girl worried about being raped and complained of pushers trying to sell her pills. “Mostly, what I have seen Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 226rebirth reminds me of Dante’s inferno,” the journalist wrote, amid photos of dejected faces and ﬁ lthy, grafﬁ ti-strewn apartments. 62 The James administration complained that the 1990 census drastically underestimated Newark’s population, particularly with regard to Latinos.
Still, the statistics revealed Newark as the incredible shrinking city, with a mere 275,000 people. The ﬁ gure represented a drop of more than 16 percent since 1980, and the fewest number of residents since the turn of the century. 63 Harry Grant decided to host a “grand opening” ceremony in 1989 at his Renaissance Mall. However, when Newark politicos and businessmen toured the mall in hard hats, they found half-built ceilings and walls. The escalator worked, but that was about the only fully functional aspect of the site. Duct work and electrical wires hadn’t been covered, and none of the stores were occupied. Grant’s spokespeople refused to name any retailers that had actu- ally signed contracts to operate in the mall. Still, Grant promised the mall would open in March of 1990. Horse-drawn carriages departing from the mall on tours of the city would commence soon thereafter. The conﬁ dent developer also continued to speak in his characteristic third person. “Big-boy Harry made up his mind to come to the city,” Grant said of Newark, “and to show to the world that it can be the number one city in the world.” 64 A serious falling out between Harry Grant and Newark occurred in autumn of 1989. Grant had hired men—mostly homeless, as it turned out—to install Belgian block sidewalks along Broad Street. But after Grant’s crews ﬁ nished the agreed-upon job, Hurricane Harry ordered them to keep on going. His workers tore up sidewalks and laid new bricks on two extra blocks, even after members of the James administration told Grant to stop. After the men continued laying sidewalks—after dark, without permits—the city pressed criminal trespass charges. 65 Excavation for Harry Grant’s tower began in early 1990. By the spring, with the Renaissance Mall still not remotely ready to open, creditors began foreclosure proceedings on Grant’s properties because he’d defaulted on loans. Grant declared bankruptcy, seeking Chapter 11 protection for four of his companies and himself personally. He owed creditors nearly $63 million, including $12 million for the mall project. The real estate market’s downturn caused all the trouble, Grant said. 66 The city later spent $50,000 to redo Grant’s shoddy sidewalks and another $200,000 to ﬁ ll in the city-block-size hole dug for the tower foundation.
Taxpayers also footed the bill to buy back the site in bankruptcy court. Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change227 Meanwhile, the shell of the Renaissance Mall would stand for more than a decade as an embarrassing albatross hung around the city’s neck. 67 The Harry Grant ﬁ asco may have been a ﬂ uke, but a more enduring problem continued to dog Newark. Details of city officials’ shameless behavior and nonsensical use of taxpayer money often made news. City council members had been given hefty raises in the 1980s with the idea that the positions be considered full-time jobs, yet most council representatives still collected second and even third salaries, often from city or Essex County agencies. Five staffers were employed to work for the council as a group, and each council member was allowed to hire ﬁ ve additional full-time aides. (The staffs of state legislators, by contrast, typically consisted of one or two aides with salaries totaling about one-fourth of each Newark council member’s staff.) Without apology, council members stocked their staffs with family members, employing nephews and wives, even children home from college on summer and winter breaks. Council members received cars, spent freely on food and travel, and, in a bizarre practice, allocated thousands to a fund that required almost no oversight. Council members said they often dipped into the fund and handed out money directly to Newark residents. “I don’t know how many people walk in off the street and say, ‘Can I borrow $10 or $20?’ ” Council President Henry Martinez said. “I give it to them. If people say, ‘I need $150 to pay my rent,’ I go into my pocket. I don’t account for it, so I’ve lost it.” 68 Council-member spending was usually, but not always, legal. Marie Villani, the tiny grandmotherly woman who had served as an at-large council member since taking over her husband’s post when he died in 1973, pled guilty in 1993 to federal charges of misusing city money and resigned from the council. Her son Allen was also implicated in the scandal, which involved submitting bogus bills to the city. The two were sentenced to three months in prison and each ﬁ ned $5,000. 69 The scandals continued in February of 1994, when federal ofﬁ cials unsealed indictments against City Council President Gary Harris and Ralph Grant Jr., also a council member and an ordained Seventh Adventist Church minister.
The men were charged with accepting thousands of dollars in bribes to arrange municipal contracts for a towing company. 70 People also began asking more questions about Mayor James’s apparent ﬁ nancial windfalls. During his years on the city council, Sharpe James projected the appearance of a tightﬁ sted reformer. He voted against a pay increase and refused to accept a city-owned car, saying it was a poor use of taxpayer dollars. So how was it that by the early 1990s, Sharpe James could afford to buy ﬁ ve homes? What about the $160,000 yacht? 71Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 228rebirth James’s newfound wealth became a topic harped on by mayoral contenders in the 1994 election. Unlike in 1990, when James won reelection unopposed, several candidates entered a ﬁ ercely battled 1994 campaign.
The challengers included William Payne, brother of Congressman Donald Payne; Dr. Colleen Walton, a podiatrist and vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Committee; and Ras Baraka, a twenty-ﬁ ve-year-old school- teacher whose campaign was managed by his father, poet and activist Amiri Baraka. Windows at Baraka’s Halsey Street headquarters were smashed.
Payne complained that voters feared endorsing him because they believed the James administration would seek revenge. After James questioned Walton’s medical credentials at a forum hosted by the teacher’s union, the doctor ﬁ led a defamation lawsuit. Leaﬂ ets disparaging various candidates ﬂ ooded the streets. One, titled “King James—Millionaire Mayor,” questioned why the mayor refused to disclose his tax returns. 72 Mayor James said his wealth was simply the result of wise investments and a frugal lifestyle. People who questioned him were either jealous or racist—no one would wonder how a white man bought some real estate—or simply playing politics.
James campaigned in 1994 largely by rehashing Newark’s achievements under his watch. The National Civic League had designated Newark an All-America City. Another group rewarded Newark with a ﬁ rst-place ﬁ nish in a competition for America’s most livable city. James had gleefully turned many of the city’s misbegotten high-rise housing projects into dust. Four buildings at the North Ward’s Columbus Homes were razed two months before the 1994 election. (More than forty high-rise projects would eventu- ally be demolished by the mayor.) Sharpe James could also claim Newark was home to the nation’s fastest-growing airport and a rapidly increasing corporate presence. Plans for hundreds of market-rate condos were in the works, as well as an amazing coup for the once-depressed city: ground had broken on the $180 million arts center, due to open in 1997. 73 The opening of a modern, six-screen movie theater probably meant more than an arts center to the average Newark resident. Located in the heart of the 1967 riot zone, at Springﬁ eld Avenue and Bergen Street, the movie house was the ﬁ rst of its kind to operate in the area in twenty-ﬁ ve years. Before the theater opened in the spring of 1993, people had to drive to Millburn or Short Hills to catch a movie. The return of such an ordinary pleasure meant that life in the troubled city might truly be returning to normalcy. 74 By the 1994 election, Mayor James had become known as a savvy maverick leading America’s urban revitalization and answered requests to give speeches on the topic around the country. A government trade newspaper had named Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change229 Sharpe James New Jersey’s “most valuable public ofﬁ cial.” He could brag of impressive political support. The mayor held enough sway at the state level that in 1991 New Jersey Governor Jim Florio appointed his wife, Mary James, a Newark public-school teacher, to a part-time, $83,000-per-year patronage position on the Crimes Compensation Board. Mayor James, named president of the National League of Cities in 1994, was friends with Jesse Jackson and President Bill Clinton, who had welcomed him to a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. The 1994 campaign, while viciously fought, easily went to Sharpe James, who won 64 percent of the vote. 75 Insulted that none of his challengers called to congratulate him, James called the campaign “the dirtiest” he’d experienced in his twenty-four years in politics. At an election-night celebration at the Robert Treat Hotel, the mayor oddly compared his bitter victory to another, far nobler political contest on the other side of the world. Nelson Mandela, a prisoner in apart- heid-era South Africa for nearly three decades, had just become that nation’s ﬁ rst democratically elected president, and its ﬁ rst-ever black leader. “Nelson Mandela did not win for himself,” James said. “He won for the people of South Africa. Tonight, it’s not a celebration, but a renewed commitment to work together and make Newark a better city.” 76 Players in Newark political circles have an uncanny talent for lingering around the fringes of power for decades. They throw their support behind candidates at opportune moments so that they’re perfectly positioned to snag patronage jobs, trade favors among businessmen and ofﬁ cials, and oc- casionally put money in guaranteed investments. Calvin West is one example of just such a political operative. West came from a politically connected family. His sister, Larrie Stalks, was a secretary for Hugh Addonizio while he was in Congress. After Addonizio won the mayoralty, Stalks was named secretary to Newark’s Central Planning Board. Later, as the director of a low-income housing complex and register of deeds and mortgages in Essex County, she organized a network of supporters and became something of a political kingmaker among Newark’s African Americans. (After retiring, Stalks pled guilty in 1995 to accepting kickbacks of as much as $200,000 in exchange for steering housing security contracts to certain ﬁ rms. 77) In 1966, Stalks’s brother, Calvin West, became the ﬁ rst black man in Newark to win an at-large city council seat. He and Irvine Turner, the long-serving Central Ward councilman, were Newark’s top-ranking African American ofﬁ cials during the Addonizio years. Both were strong allies of Mayor Addonizio, and in1969 both were indicted for extortion and conspiracy alongside the mayor and assorted city ofﬁ cials and mobsters.Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 230rebirth Whereas Hugh Addonizio was quickly convicted, West, Turner, mob leader Anthony “Tony Boy” Boiardo, and others managed to get their trials delayed and eventually dropped. Still, the scandal contributed to West, Turner, and others losing in the 1970 elections. Sharpe James had been among the slate of reformist “Community Choice” candidates to push Addonizio, West, and others out of ofﬁ ce. Technically, at least, James and West were on opposing sides. West was part of the corrupt, unproductive regime that Sharpe James and Ken Gibson replaced. Yet lo and behold, years later, Calvin West surfaced in City Hall as a deputy mayor and top aide in the Sharpe James administration.
From his inﬂ uential post, West stood poised to take advantage of other opportunities, like when Jon Corzine spent nearly $35 million in his 2000 run for U.S. Senate. In addition to the ﬁ ve thousand to seven thousand people Corzine employed to campaign in the streets of Newark and other cities for $75 a day, the candidate hired Calvin West as one of forty-odd higher-paid “consultants.” West and others gathered at the Robert Treat Hotel—where Sharpe James always hosted his parties and where Corzine had rented out an entire ﬂ oor for over $200,000—to discuss strategy. In 2001, Governor Jim McGreevey, another high-proﬁ le ofﬁ cial who owed favors to Sharpe James and Calvin West for their support, appointed West as the governor’s “North Jersey ﬁ eld representative.” The job, which paid more than $100,000 annually, hadn’t existed before McGreevey created it for West, who was an old friend.
Several years later, the new governor—Jon Corzine—was facing pressure to cut back on government spending and dissolved the unnecessary North Jersey representative post. 78 E. Wyman Garrett was another interesting character who resurfaced peri- odically to make news. During the notorious 1971 teachers’ strike, Garrett, a dentist and former board of education member, gave perhaps the angriest of all the speeches. He threatened board members, warned striking teachers they’d need police escorts if they attempted to return to schools, and told “honkeys” to stay out of the black community’s business. 79 By 1987, the dentist had become an obstetrician-gynecologist, embroiled in a controversy related to the many abortions he performed. Some forty patients had ﬁ led complaints against Dr. Garrett. In one instance, a fetus survived the opera- tion; in another, a fourteen-year-old girl died. Garrett pled guilty to gross malpractice and his medical license was revoked. 80 E. Wyman Garrett, the former dentist/doctor/board of education member/ all-around rabble rouser, dropped the title “Dr.” in the late 1980s and became a lobbyist who specialized in working for clients seeking assistance from Newark politicians. Garrett represented waste-industry businesses, among Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change231 other clients. In 1989, a savings and loan company called Metrobank paid $200,000 to the consulting ﬁ rm run by Garrett and his wife. Garrett’s job was to lobby Newark ofﬁ cials to give a tax abatement for a condominium conver- sion overseen by Metrobank’s Newark subsidiary, Forest Hill Terrace. Garrett said he discussed the matter personally with Councilman Henry Martinez, Mayor James, the mayor’s chief of staff, Jackie Mattison, and other ofﬁ cials.
A few months after Sharpe James’s fund-raising committee received $10,000 and various council members received smaller checks—either directly from Metrobank or from Garrett’s company—the city council OK’d the tax abate- ment. The thirty-year agreement amounted to a tax break of $28 million. 81 Of course, at the time of the agreement the public knew almost nothing about E. Wyman Garrett’s negotiations with city ofﬁ cials. The nefarious dealings made news only in the fall of 1994, when Garrett was called to testify before federal investigators. 82 In the aftermath of the indictments of coun- cilmen Grant and Harris related to municipal towing contracts, prosecutors had expanded their probe and slowly been connecting the dots to ﬁ gure out how and when money traded hands in Newark. Hundreds of subpoenas ﬂ ooded into City Hall in the months after Sharpe James was elected to his third term. James initially told council members, city agencies, and all of his aides to cooperate fully with the investigation.
By early 1995, Mayor James seemed less willing to assist investigators, who he now accused of focusing on his administration because he was black. As the federal probe continued, a fair-election commission issued a twenty- seven-count complaint against James. It stated that hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the mayor’s charity was essentially being used to fund campaigns for James and his allies—which was illegal, unless the money was properly reported to state election authorities. The ﬁ ndings of more than $900,000 in improperly donated money ranked as the worst-ever breach discovered in the election commission’s two decades in existence. Much of the money had been generated during James’s annual birthday parties, lavish affairs in which guests paid $200 to $500 a head to socialize with New Jersey’s most powerful African American ofﬁ cial. For anyone hoping to do business with the city of Newark, attendance and an opening of the wallet at these events was all but mandatory. James’s organizations were ﬁ ned $44,000 and later wound up being disbanded. 83 Evidence presented in the trial of councilmen Harris and Grant, mean- while, indicated that Newark’s city government was as corrupt as it had ever been. “City Hall is like a supermarket,” said the voice of Frank Megaro, unknowingly being recorded by a federal informant. “Everything is for sale.” 84 Megaro, a Newark councilman during the early 1970s, and Bobbie Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 232rebirth Cottle, a former Newark police ofﬁ cer, had pleaded guilty to bribery and agreed to testify for the prosecution against Grant and Harris. Cottle and Megaro represented an outﬁ t called K&K Towing Company. They handed bags of cash to councilmen Harris and Grant at City Hall, Newark hotels, or other meeting places, with the idea that the council members would steer municipal contracts to K&K. 85 The main informant in the case was Charles Geyer, a businessman who owned parking lots and an ofﬁ ce building in Newark and owed the city millions in back taxes. Geyer said he ﬁ rst went to federal authorities after Alfred Faiella, executive director of the Newark Economic Development Corporation and a longtime Sharpe James crony, tried to extort $100,000 from him in order to make Geyer’s tax troubles disappear. (Faiella refused to testify, citing Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.) Cottle, the former cop, had earlier approached Geyer and asked him to help K&K win city contracts. Geyer began wearing a wire and recorded dozens of phone calls and meetings with the involved parties. Jurors listened to at least three incidents in which Geyer personally handed the councilmen several thousand dollars in cash. 86 In March of 1995 a jury convicted Harris and Grant on all charges, including counts of conspiracy, extortion, and mail fraud. Both men protested their innocence. Four African Americans sat on the jury, which delivered a unanimous verdict, yet Grant argued that the courts were biased against black men. Harris and Grant, the two latest Newark public servants convicted of crimes committed while in ofﬁ ce, were each sentenced to thirty-three months in prison. 87 Everyone waited for the other shoe to drop. In the hours of taped conver- sations presented at trial, Cottle and Megaro regularly claimed that Sharpe James, mayoral appointees, and nearly every city council member could be bought. They were all “on the pad,” voices said. Time and again, conversation bubbled to the effect of How do you think the mayor could afford his yacht?
No evidence directly implicated the mayor of wrongdoing, but everyone expected more indictments. 88 For the moment, at least, attention turned to the long-awaited state takeover of Newark’s hapless public-school system. The post-riot governor’s commission had recommended the takeover way back in 1968. Threats had been consistently lofted at Newark’s board of education, warning that improvements had to occur. Yet signs of incompetence and corruption, of board members expensing tropical junkets and people being hired without qualifications, never ceased. On the same day Harris and Grant were convicted, for example, two school supervisors were arrested and charged Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change233 with taking $80,000 in bribes from a contractor. When the contractor put in bathroom stalls without doors, no one asked him to ﬁ nish the job, so students had no choice but to use the facilities with no privacy. 89 Apparently most Newarkers were either uninterested or too skeptical to believe that anything could be done to ﬁ x the schools; even with the threatened takeover looming, a mere 4 percent of the electorate had voted in a recent school-board election. The system was spending the most money in New Jersey—more than $10,000 per child, most of it state money—yet three-fourths of Newark students failed the High School Proﬁ ciency Test.
Statewide, three-fourths passed the test. 90 “That is a description of failure on a very large scale,” said a judge in mid-April of 1995, ordering that the state ﬁ nally take over Newark’s schools. 91 The other shoe dropped on November 9,1995. Federal agents armed with search warrants raided the ofﬁ ces and homes of Jackie Mattison, Mayor James’s chief of staff, and William Celester, Mayor James’s handpicked police director. Cartons full of documents were seized. Mattison was married and had two children, but lived most of the time with his longtime girlfriend, a Newark hairdresser named Janice Williams, whose house was also raided. It was there, under the ﬂ oorboards, that agents discovered $156,000 in cash. 92 Within hours of the raid, Sharpe James boarded a plane to Los Angeles to attend a frivolous contest sponsored by HBO for the nation’s funniest mayor. James was the only mayor to appear in person. He told his joke, which involved the Pope driving a limousine. HBO awarded James $1,500 for Newark’s homeless. A Broad Street vendor summed up the outrage many Newarkers felt with James’s disappearance. “It’s like your house is on ﬁ re and you go to a picnic,” the vendor said. “I mean—your chief of staff? How can you go out of town at a time like this? It is just not responsible.” 93 When James returned to Newark, he placed William Celester on leave— paid. The police director, who had allegedly pocketed conﬁ scated money from drug dealers, used city money to pay for vacations to Mexico and Bermuda, and demanded subordinates fork over hundreds of dollars if they expected promotions, continued to receive his $95,000-a-year salary while the investigation progressed. Mayor James took no action against his trusted aide Jackie Mattison, whom the mayor defended as a man of “honesty and integ- rity” and “an exemplary member of my staff.” James said he had “complete conﬁ dence” in Mattison. “There is nothing he’s done wrong.” 94 As chief of staff, Jackie Mattison was the mayor’s right-hand man. Mattison arguably knew more about Newark’s inner workings than even Sharpe James. Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 234rebirth Insiders understood that the quiet, unassuming aide was the gatekeeper through which all city contracts, appointments, money, and inﬂ uence ﬂ owed.
Mattison, the forty-ﬁ ve-year-old cousin of James’s wife, Mary, joined the mayor’s administration from the beginning, signing on as an aide in 1986.
At the mayor’s suggestion, Mattison ran and won a state assemblyman’s seat.
He’d since breezed through ﬁ ve election victories, the last one immediately before the federal raid. Mattison pulled in $87,000 a year as James’s top aide, and another $35,000 as a state legislator. With duties bringing him to Trenton, Mattison served as the mayor’s liaison with all branches of state government.
He also oversaw Mayor James’s birthday parties and coordinated fund-raising for charities and political campaigns. 95 Only when the indictment against Mattison was handed down, in late January of 1996, did Mayor James remove his chief of staff from his post.
James, who said he “was saddened” by the indictment, didn’t ask for Mattison’s resignation or even place him on leave. Instead, the mayor reassigned him to the department of health, where Mattison could continue to collect his salary. Mattison was charged with nineteen counts of conspiracy, extortion, and bribery. He’d collected more than $17,000, prosecutors said, in exchange for lining up contracts for William Bradley, a broker who was also indicted.
In exchange for the kickbacks Bradley paid to Mattison’s girlfriend and the mayor’s chief of staff directly, Bradley snagged control of a $43 million retirement fund for city workers and insurance contracts with the Newark school board. 96 Sharpe James, usually a garrulous man who welcomed the spotlight, had kept a low proﬁ le since the federal subpoenas began ﬂ ying. Through the summer and fall of 1995, he consistently offered no comment on the inves- tigations, other than to decry the racism of the media and prosecutors. At one dedication ceremony, James showed his face only after police ensured him that no journalists were present. In late November, a few weeks after the federal raid—and mere hours after the Star-Ledger warned it was going to court to obtain public documents James refused to turn over—an evic- tion notice was posted on the newspaper’s ofﬁ ce at City Hall. A week after his friend and aide Jackie Mattison was indicted, the mayor dedicated much of his forty-two-page state-of-the-city speech to blasting the “hostile and racially charged media.” 97 The indictment of William Celester followed that June. He pled guilty to three charges of fraud the following month, admitting he had illegally taken nearly $30,000 from an account that was supposed to be available for paying off conﬁ dential drug informants. Instead, from almost the moment he arrived in Newark, Celester tapped into the account and started writing Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change235 checks to cover personal expenses—presents for his wife and girlfriend, gifts for ofﬁ ce workers, tropical vacations, his wife’s car insurance. The disgraced former police director later tried to explain that his wrongdoings were simple mistakes. “That’s the way the account was used,” he said. “There were never any guidelines on that account.” 98 Celester also admitted to ﬁ ling false tax returns and illegally siphoning another $30,000 in “donations” from subordinates. At Celester’s sentencing hearing, a 1992 memo surfaced in which Newark’s police director promised to “wipe out all corruption” in the police department, “no matter how miniscule or isolated.” Sentencing guidelines recommended twenty to twenty-seven months in prison for the crimes, but the judge ordered Celester to jail for thirty months. “He was selected to come in and clean up the situation,” the judge said, “and he only made it worse.” 99 In early 1997, with his former police director in jail, his city’s school system in state hands, and his chief of staff ’s criminal trial under way, Sharpe James boasted in his state-of-the-city address that he’d met or surpassed all of the goals set for the previous year. James all but guaranteed he’d run for a fourth term as mayor in the speech, which bristled with conﬁ dence and a bit of fury.
“If I was white, I would be mayor of the decade,” he said. 100 Jackie Mattison never testiﬁ ed in his own defense, but his girlfriend, hairdresser Janice Williams, took the stand in exchange for immunity. One day, Williams told the court, she’d simply come home and discovered stacks of hundred-dollar bills under the ﬂ oorboards and in the attic. Her father, a taxi driver, had previously owned the home, so she supposed that the hidden loot was somehow his. Jackie Mattison had absolutely nothing to do with the money, Williams said, even if there were several notes that read “10K” in Mattison’s handwriting among the cash. And the money given to her and Mattison by the broker William Bradley? They were loans, not payoffs. The jury didn’t believe the defense’s story and convicted Mattison and Bradley on all charges. After the jury rendered its decision, Mattison ﬁ nally resigned from his position in the James administration, which at that point was paying him just under $95,000 per year. He was later ﬁ ned $25,000 and given the maximum sentence of forty-one months. 101 Newark’s 1967 population stood at just over 400,000. Over the next thirty years, about 140,000 people—one out of three residents—left the city. The 1997 population estimate of 259,000, down from 275,000 at the 1990 census, meant that people continued to move out of Newark, even during the city’s much-heralded “renaissance.”Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 236rebirth Conditions for those who remained were grim. Per capita income among residents was $9,424, about half the state average. More than 37 percent of Newark kids lived in poverty. Student test scores hadn’t budged since the state takeover of public schools. In the late 1960s, crime had often been cited as a prime reason why Newark’s middle-class families moved to the suburbs.
Three decades later, the city’s violent crime rates had doubled—so had the average number of cars stolen each year, even with the overall population drop. According to FBI statistics, as recently as 1995 Newark was ranked, per capita, as the most violent city in the United States. 102 Newark’s department stores, once a magnet for suburban shoppers, had all disappeared. Macy’s, which had taken over Bamberger’s and its Market Street site, was the last to go, closing in 1992. Broad Street largely became the domain of steel-shuttered discount stores and sidewalk vendors selling cheap clothing, hot dogs, or bootlegged CDs and movies. One couldn’t walk a few blocks without encountering an abandoned building—the crumbling old hulk of the Hahne’s department store, Westinghouse’s contaminated brick factory near the Broad Street train station. Perhaps worst of all was the empty façade of Harry Grant’s Renaissance Mall, an eyesore whose name served as a constant reminder of unreached ambitions.
Signs of improvement were apparent in some areas, however, with a pair of modern movie multiplexes, one in the Central Ward and another farther out near the city border. Shiny new supermarkets, national drugstore chains, strip malls, and condo developments had also begun dotting worn-out old neighborhoods. After years of urban renewal initiatives, some forty thousand students attended Newark’s ﬁ ve colleges, bringing with them much-needed youthful energy to the city. The airport expansion, once considered a cata- strophic waste of money, had successfully laid the foundation for Newark International to supplant La Guardia and JFK as the metropolitan area’s busiest airport. The market for ofﬁ ce space around the Gateway buildings and Penn Station was booming, with mere 3 percent vacancy rates. 103 Even with the positive signs, though, the much-quoted phrase that “Wherever American cities are going, Newark will get there ﬁ rst” hadn’t quite borne out. Newark may have led the nation’s urban decline, but it, in fact, lagged behind the ensuing revitalization. Seattle, which lost more than sixty thousand people in the 1960s and 1970s, had since lured families and young professionals back in the technology-booming 1980s and 1990s, when seventy thousand residents were added. Sports complexes, museums, arts centers, revamped historic districts, and other major initiatives had brought the masses into previously struggling downtowns of cities such as Balti- more, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. In New York City, areas once considered dangerous slums—the Lower East Side, downtown Brooklyn, Park Slope, Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change237 Harlem—underwent rapid gentriﬁ cation and became hot places to live and invest. Young, well-to-do residents likewise poured into Hoboken and Jersey City. The latter welcomed more than ten thousand newcomers in the 1990s as it came closer to leapfrogging Newark as the state’s most populous city.
Even Mayor Sharpe James admitted that Newark’s naïve post-riot leader- ship, of which he was a part as a councilman, deserved some of the blame for the city’s hardships and snail-paced recovery. “The tragedy was that we didn’t have the skills, knowledge and vision to move the city,” James said. “We had failed at many projects.” 104 All those mistakes were in the past, Mayor James contended. The October 1997 opening of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) in down- town Newark was the most obvious example that the often-discussed revival wasn’t mere bluster. Since 1986, when then-governor Thomas Kean ﬁ rst commissioned an organization to look into building an arts complex some- where in the state, Sharpe James lobbied strongly and often for Newark as the site. James held the power of endorsements over the heads of Democratic state legislature candidates; if they didn’t support placing the arts center in Newark, then James didn’t support them for ofﬁ ce. “Lincoln Center was built in an area formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen, and people came,” James said, answering the many skeptics who argued that NJPAC would struggle to bring in crowds because of its downtown Newark location. 105 Eventually the state jumped on board, ponying up more than half of the center’s $180 million price tag. Corporations and philanthropic organizations also put their faith, and their money, into the project. Prudential, the insur- ance and ﬁ nancial company whose fate had been intertwined with Newark’s for more than a century, and whose tax breaks and community commit- ment had often been questioned, led corporate investment in NJPAC with $6.5 million. Pepsi chipped in $500,000, ensuring it would be the center’s only beverage supplier for ﬁ ve years. Continental Airlines, the offspring of Newark-based upstart People Express, donated $250,000. Newark’s Andrew Carnegie came in the form of a quiet, silver-haired man named Raymond Chambers, a West Ward native and Rutgers University-Newark graduate who amassed $200 million in the ﬁ nancial world by the mid-1980s—and began giving away his fortune in the 1990s. Through his various philanthropic endeavors, Chambers steered some $12 million to the NJPAC cause. 106 “No city can revive without a middle class,” Chambers said. “And you can’t have a middle class without an after-dark life.” Prudential chairman and CEO Arthur Ryan agreed, saying, “A city doesn’t function if it’s open only eight hours a day.” 107 Bringing sophisticated, wealthy people back to downtown—more bluntly, bringing them into the heart of the poor, black city, after dark, no less—was Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 238rebirth the way to propel Newark to the next level of revitalization, NJPAC backers believed. “This is the big idea: to change the way people think about Newark,” said NJPAC president Lawrence Goldman. “It’s not the place where you get your car stolen; it’s where you go to concerts.” 108 To Goldman, who took over the NJPAC project after serving as vice presi- dent at Carnegie Hall, building a ﬁ rst-rate facility in Newark was a necessity if the gamble was going to pay off. In order to guarantee a proper construction job, Goldman disqualiﬁ ed anyone attempting to secure contracts through political connections—no minor feat in graft-ridden Newark. The result was a stately facility acclaimed as one of the country’s ﬁ nest places to hear music. “After Carnegie Hall and Symphony Hall, in Boston,” NJPAC’s main room, the 2,750-seat Prudential Hall was “the best orchestral space in the Northeast,” a New Yorker critic wrote. “With its classic horseshoe shape, glowing dark-wood interior, and warmly resonant acoustic, it exudes the personality of a nineteenth-century room.” 109 Buoyed by NJPAC’s opening and other coups—a $22 million minor- league baseball stadium and Rutgers’ new $55 million law school building were both in the works—Mayor Sharpe James regained his swagger, if he’d ever lost it. Months had passed since the convictions of the mayor’s police director and chief of staff, and still James hadn’t been indicted. It seemed as if Sharpe James was in the clear. No longer avoiding the media, the mayor returned to his rascally, wise-cracking routine, at one point kissing on the cheek a male Times reporter who asked about corruption. 110 “Celester? Sharpe James is your hero. I am your Sherlock Holmes,” Mayor James told the Times reporter, talking about himself as usual in third person.
An audit ordered by James had led to the revelation that Newark’s police director, William Celester, was crooked, after all, and the mayor explained he deserved credit for bringing Celester down. James also said he’d never been anything but helpful when FBI agents came looking for Jackie Mattison’s ﬁ les.
“I opened the door for them and said, ‘Would you like a tuna ﬁ sh sandwich?’” James said. “So am I a part of the problem or the solution?” 111 Sharpe James clearly wasn’t making all of Newark’s problems disappear.
When he ﬁ rst became mayor, he promised that city employees would no longer be required or even expected to donate to political campaigns, as had been standard protocol. “City Hall will function as a business, not as a social or political club,” James said at his inauguration. 112 In practice, things worked quite differently. By the eve of the 1998 election, Newark’s bloated municipal government ranked as the city’s ﬁ fth largest employer. Either out of loyalty to the man to whom they owed their liveli- hoods or fear of what that man might do if crossed, Newark’s four thousand Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. sharpe change239 municipal workers consistently ﬂ ushed Sharpe James’s campaign coffers with donations. One study showed that between the 1994 and 1998 elections, two- thirds of James’s campaign funds came from current or former city workers.
Donations tended to spike each year in late February, right around the mayor’s birthday bash at the Robert Treat Hotel. Cops, ﬁ reﬁ ghters, housing- authority staffers, city lawyers, and labor unions were the most likely to contribute, and top appointees generally handed over the most generous amounts. 113 Would-be political competitors complained that, in light of James’s dona- tion vacuum, there were few other sources in cash-strapped Newark from which to tap. “What he wants to do is block out the ability of anyone to raise money,” said one council member. 114 Mayor James steamrolled over three poorly ﬁ nanced challengers in 1994, and no matter the proven corruption rampant in his administration, 1998 seemed to be shaping up the same way.
James raised hundreds of thousands more dollars for the 1998 campaign, and his challengers were no more formidable than they’d been in 1994. Two council members, Mildred Crump and Ronald Rice, entered as mayoral candidates and tried to call attention to the crime, school failure, and corrup- tion under the James administration. They were hopelessly overmatched, however. Combined, their campaigns totaled $170,000, compared to James’s $1.6 million. 115 TheStar-Ledger, in its 1998 mayoral endorsement, painstakingly came to “a conclusion that is not pleasing but is at the same time inescapable,” and gave its nod to a fourth term for Sharpe James. “Warts and all, he is the best we are able to get at this moment in history.” 116 In a perfectly choreographed photo op a few days before the election, Mayor James ate hot dogs and popcorn, sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and planted a shovel into the dirt at a groundbreaking ceremony for the city’s new minor-league baseball stadium. James didn’t seem concerned that the stadium’s eleven-acre site hadn’t actually been purchased yet. He chastised the “naysayers,” who didn’t have faith in him or the return of professional baseball to Newark after a ﬁ fty-year absence. “We say to them we believe this is a city poised for greatness, and we believe the renaissance is for real,” James said. 117 As expected, the mayor cruised to another election victory, winning 56 percent of the vote. Only one-third of registered voters bothered to cast ballots in the uneventful contest. Sharpe James celebrated gleefully at his Broad Street campaign headquarters, leading supporters in a chant taunting his just-crushed opponents. “Dumped Crump! Fried Rice!” they cheered. 118Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 240 9 A Renaissance for the Rest of Us cory booker confronts the power structure A couple of days after Newark’s May 1998 general elections, Mayor Sharpe James rounded up a handful of close advisors and city council allies for a feast at Don Pepe’s, a Spanish ﬁ ne-dining establishment adorned with pastoral murals and glass chandeliers, renowned for its lobster and sangria.
In a back room overlooking the slow-ﬂ owing, brown waters of the Passaic River, they gathered not so much to celebrate the mayor’s latest blowout victory at the polls, but to plot strategy for the upcoming city council runoff elections. 1 Mayor James had won his contest easily enough to avoid a runoff, but several long-serving council members hadn’t fared as well. The power of incumbency was always particularly strong in Newark. Once someone landed on the city council, he or she tended to stay there for decades. There’s an old joke that goes something along the lines of, “Newark politicians leave ofﬁ ce in only one of two ways: death or conviction.” Yet in the May election, Henry Martinez, who’d become Newark’s ﬁ rst Latino council president in the course of serving as the East Ward’s representative for twenty-four years, lost in his run for a seventh term. Martinez was then only the third council incumbent in three decades to lose a reelection bid. (The East Ward, which included the heavily Portuguese Ironbound neighborhood, fell to Augusto Amador, a PSE&G executive and native of Portugal.) Three other incumbents and two new candidates backed by Mayor James had each failed to net 50 percent of the vote and therefore faced runoffs in June. 2 To a council unaccustomed to turnover, ﬁ ve new members would poten- tially be the greatest upheaval in city government since the historic 1970 elections. Even though Mayor James had breezed to a fourth term, the strong results for upstart council candidates represented a throwing down of the gauntlet to the city’s status quo political structure, including the kingpin Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 241 at the top. The mayor, held in awe as a power broker who swept allies into ofﬁ ce with a few words’ endorsement, viewed the insurgency as an affront.
“My victory is not complete,” the mayor said, until his slate of candidates also won their races. 3 The push for reform in city government, brewing for years, had picked up in intensity in the mid-1990s, when members of the James administra- tion and two councilmen were convicted of federal crimes. At one point, community activists rallied to recall several council members. The Star-Ledger helped inspire the movement, printing a story detailing city ofﬁ cials’ high salaries and proﬂ igate spending. The council budget, an astronomical $9.1 million, was unparalleled among U.S. cities of comparable size. Jersey City, for example, had a population nearly the same as Newark’s, yet the budget for Newark’s clerk and city council was seven times as large. In 1995, the council had voted themselves 5 percent guaranteed annual raises. While the median household income in Newark stood at $19,000, council members collected salaries of $75,000 and up, higher compensation than what similar ofﬁ cials received in much bigger cities, such as Philadelphia and New York City. Most of Newark’s council received other income from second or third employers and/or pensions, typically from previous careers also funded by taxpayer money. Council members also received city cars and spent lavishly on travel, meals, cell phones, and other expenses. Flowers and fruit baskets ordered by the council, for example, cost taxpayers an average of $1,500 per month. 4 The council’s hefty budget became an issue during the 1998 campaign.
Several upstart candidates promised that they’d ﬁ ght to scale back pay and perks, if elected. Ras Baraka, the teacher and son of poet-activist Amiri Baraka, who’d run for mayor in 1994, was one of the reform-minded candidates eager to challenge the power structure. “They brought this on themselves,” said the younger Baraka of council members whose positions were in jeopardy.
“They don’t prepare any young people to take the baton. They want to be there forever. To me, I feel like I’ve committed a crime because I love my community and want to run for ofﬁ ce, for God’s sake.” 5 To Mayor James and his allies, another idealistic young council candidate seemed potentially more troublesome even than Ras Baraka. The candidate, twenty-nine-year-old Cory Booker—a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School graduate with GQ looks and a six-foot, three-inch, thickly muscled frame— was like nothing ever seen before in Newark politics. Outsiders were always viewed with suspicion in Newark’s huddled political circles, and being raised in one of the city’s poor neighborhoods had almost become prerequisite to running for ofﬁ ce. Most serious contenders traditionally navigated their way to prominence by establishing careers as police ofﬁ cers, teachers, or in other Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 242 r e bi rt h public-sector jobs. They dutifully campaigned for city elders in election after election until being approved as candidates themselves.
Cory Booker had taken a much different path before running for a city council seat. Born in Washington, D.C., Booker grew up in Harrington Park, a wealthy North Jersey suburb twenty miles and a proverbial world away from the tough streets of Newark. His parents, both IBM executives active in the civil rights movement, were the ﬁ rst African Americans to integrate the afﬂ uent all-white neighborhood where they raised their two boys, Cory and Cary. Cory followed his days as a standout high school athlete and student by attending Stanford University, where he played tight end on the football team, served as student-body president, and graduated cum laude. Next came a couple of years in the early 1990s at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and then three years at Yale pursuing a law degree. While still at Yale, Booker began commuting from New Haven to Newark to make inroads as a tenant-rights’ advocate. Until then, Cory Booker’s main connection to the city had been through an uncle who operated a dental practice in town.
Upon receiving his law degree in 1997, Booker moved to Newark full-time and continued advocacy work for tenants and the homeless. 6 Booker established himself in the heart of the city’s poorest neighborhood, the Central Ward. He became a leader of a group of young community- minded professionals who called themselves the Breakfast Club. Booker also spoke his mind at city meetings, lobbied ofﬁ cials to support his tenant initiatives or other reforms, and made connections with Newark’s many grassroots organizations. 7 Cory Booker claimed he originally had no political aspirations. He said his work in Newark was simply his way of realizing the lofty expectations instilled by his civic-minded forebears, who’d always preached, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” From the time Booker arrived in Newark, however, friends and acquaintances told him that he should run for ofﬁ ce.
In a story often repeated by Booker, a ﬁ ery old woman named Virginia Jones prodded him into becoming a council candidate. Jones, president of the tenants’ association at the dilapidated sixteen-story Brick Towers, where Booker would live for eight years, asked the earnest young man, “Boy, are you here to be a lawyer or are you here to help the community? If you’re here to help the community, you are going to be our candidate.” 8 To jaded Newarkers, there was something ﬁ shy about this young crusader from the suburbs. His resumé and background, his overly sincere manner, the fact that he never drank alcohol or ate meat, the way he unleashed corn- ball phrases like “Jiminy Cricket” in lieu of vulgarities, the tale of his calling to politics—it all seemed too perfect, like he’d been following a playbook Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 243 written by Bill Clinton and other ambitious, calculating political superstars.
From the time Cory Booker was in elementary school, the word constantly passed around was that the handsome, charismatic young man would one day be president. In Newark, people believed Booker would somehow use the city as a stepping stone in his quest for higher ofﬁ ce. Or perhaps, as some hinted, this mysterious outsider was a complete fraud with darker intentions.
On the other hand, George Branch, the sixty-nine-year-old, four-term Central Ward council incumbent Booker hoped to unseat, had been around long enough for voters to know him and his authentic, up-from-the-streets Newark credentials well. Branch had ﬁ rst made a name for himself as Buddy Gee, a crafty boxer who amassed a 28–8 record as a pro. Branch had lived in Newark since 1941 and been active in Central Ward politics dating back at least to the 1960s. In 1973, the retired prizeﬁ ghter earned a bit of political clout donning his old gloves and going a few rounds in a charity match with Mayor Ken Gibson. In 1982, Branch seized the Central Ward council post, and he had held on to it ever since. 9 Branch supporters had apparently overlooked the 1988 scandal in which the councilman was indicted for extorting $1,500 in exchange for selling city lots at a discount to a restaurateur. 10 After listening to tape recordings of the kickback transactions, a teary-eyed Branch reportedly confessed to an FBI agent, “You got me.” 11 Ten days into Branch’s trial, however, a judge dismissed the case due to a technicality. Prosecutors had failed to prove the payoff involved interstate commerce, a necessary element to the federal charges Branch faced. 12 George Branch went on to win two more city council elections before meeting Cory Booker as an opponent in 1998. Branch’s supporters—Mayor James included—gave him credit for leading the Central Ward’s recovery efforts by deftly trading favors with businessmen and other city ofﬁ cials.
During Branch’s long era in ofﬁ ce, townhouse developments, a movie theater, and other businesses came to occupy previously vacant lots in the struggling neighborhood best known as the center of the 1967 riots. Senior citizens in particular were loyal to Branch, an unashamedly unlettered man known for wearing a sleek tailored suit underneath a straw fedora hat. 13 The media jumped onto the Branch-Booker matchup as a melodrama whose results would foretell the future of the city. It was a battle of the tough, old political-machine hack versus the earnest, young do-gooder; the streetwise, homegrown dinosaur versus the outsider who was book-smart but unschooled in gritty urban politics. Sharpe James characterized it as a contest between “the Rhodes Scholar and the road scholar.” 14Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 244 r e bi rt h The closely followed race featured some of the year’s ugliest political propaganda. One leaﬂ et, showing the challenger morphing into a wolf, was headlined “Cory Booker is a WOLF in Sheep’s Clothing!!!” The ﬂ ier included tidbits about Booker’s privileged upbringing in an all-white community and hinted that Booker, who “now lives with a white male in a secluded mansion,” was gay. Another piece of literature claimed Booker received campaign money from hate groups. 15 Branch refused to comment on the origin of such information, though he often questioned his challenger as an unproven Johnny-come-lately. “I would feel much better if I was running against someone who lived in the ward, worked in the ward, got schooled in the ward, and cared about the ward for his whole life,” Branch said. “He’s just a new person on the block. I was here in the middle of the riots in 1967, taking children out of the streets. I’ve made history in the ward. I’m the one who made it possible for people like him to move here and feel safe.” 16 “I want to give honor to Mr. Branch, who has been the councilman since I was 12 years old,” Booker countered. “But it is time to pass the baton to someone with new vision and new talents.” 17 Campaigning for Newark’s May elections traditionally began only in April, but Booker began knocking on Central Ward doors as early as January. Calling for reform, he harped on the overpaid, underperforming city council. Booker also raised $150,000 for his campaign, about $50,000 more than the incum- bent. Newarkers were both awed and suspicious of Booker’s well-ﬁ nanced campaign, which ran largely on money from Booker’s friends at Stanford and Yale and other sources outside Newark. Barbra Streisand, of all people, was an early supporter. Booker met the criticism for his outside funding by ques- tioning the ethics of his opponent, who accepted money from some of the city’s shadiest landlords. “When you’re struggling to get something in your apartment ﬁ xed,” a Booker ﬂ ier said, “the last thing you want to have to worry about is whether your councilman owes a favor to your landlord.” 18 Branch received 340 more votes than Booker in the May general elec- tion, but a runoff followed in June because the incumbent failed to win a majority. Booker predicted the results of that contest would forge “a new political consciousness that will forever change the way business is done in Newark.” 19 From the moment the May election results started circulating, the North Ward Cultural Center’s Steve Adubato’s phone was ringing. Known in the late 1970s as the “prince of the North Ward” and “Newark’s other mayor,” Adubato had never been elected to anything. For decades, though, he remained a formidable political power in Newark and around the state, with close ties Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 245 to governors, congressmen, and county and municipal ofﬁ cials. With the allegiance of old Italians, Latino groups, and other factions, Adubato could be relied upon to deliver blocks of voters. His support could mean victory for any of the candidates forced into a runoff, so people lobbied Adubato early and often. In the Central Ward, Adubato’s political machine represented about one-quarter of the votes, so he could easily shift the outcome to Booker or Branch. 20 Initially, Adubato didn’t endorse either man, though he hinted that the incumbents should be concerned by the pressure imposed by upstarts such as Booker. “The most feared thing in the world is the unknown,” Adubato said after the May election. “The city council here is constant. It never, never changes.” 21 The campaign building up to the June runoff grew increasingly bitter.
Fliers showing Booker and asking, “Who is this masked man?” were posted on telephone poles and mailed throughout the ward. Branch supporters called Booker an opportunistic carpetbagger and implied he was white or gay or running his campaign with money from the KKK. Eventually, Steve Adubato decided he liked Booker, despite his misgivings that the young Rhodes Scholar might soon drop Newark to run for national ofﬁ ce. Adubato’s endorsement went to Booker, and so did the Central Ward council seat. In a rare upset of a sitting councilman, Cory Booker beat George Branch by 656 votes. 22 Ras Baraka and Cory Booker may have both been calling for widespread reforms, but the two men were not remotely friends or allies. The Barakas viewed Booker with as much suspicion as Newark’s old political regime did. Ras Baraka chose not to align himself with another candidate. While he received endorsements from Nation of Islam ministers, famed poet (and longtime friend of his father’s) Maya Angelou, and several labor unions, Baraka ultimately lost his bid for the council. Still, in the biggest electoral turnover in decades, four new faces landed on the 1998 city council. 23 Three of the rookies—Cory Booker, Augusto Amador, and Mamie Bridgeforth—vowed to immediately ﬁ ght for more rigorous oversight of city expenses, including the scaling back of council members’ salaries and perks. “That’s bullshit,” Donald Tucker, a council holdover who’d clung to his position since 1974, said of the proposed reforms. “I’m not interested in cutting the salary. I have no problem freezing it, but the discussions at this point haven’t even started.” 24 Before the rookie members could ofﬁ cially join the council, the incum- bents and lame ducks made clear what they thought of attempts to rein Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 246 r e bi rt h in their perks by passing a last-minute “emergency” resolution that set aside nearly $200,000 for new cars for themselves. The new Ford Crown Victorias would replace identical models purchased four years earlier for the council. Booker, Amador, and Bridgeforth all publicly declined one of the new $22,000 cars. 25 Cory Booker, in fact, turned down any city-expensed car, even a used one.
It was the beginning of a career marked by austere, uncompromising stands that earned Booker a reputation as either a highly principled reformer or an overly dramatic publicity seeker, depending on one’s perspective. In Booker’s early days in ofﬁ ce, he called for an end to the huge bills for meals at council meetings and the street festivals they sponsored. Battling to lift the ban on citizens’ right to speak at council meetings, Booker lectured his colleagues on the importance of free speech. In another contentious issue, Booker stood ﬁ rmly against the tens of thousands of dollars council members were planning to spend on a cultural visit to Ghana, especially because the trip was to be led by a black-studies professor known for spouting anti-white, anti-Semitic rhetoric. 26 In his ﬁ rst full summer as a councilman, Booker staged his ﬁ rst major demonstration. Harkening back to the 1960s, when his parents walked in civil rights marches and attended sit-ins, Booker and a few aides set up a tent and slept on cots outside Garden Spires, a broken-down 550-unit housing complex known for its awful living conditions and rampant drug transac- tions. Hoping to take the area back from drug dealers, Booker even fasted during his “sleep-in.” Over the course of a few days, hundreds of church leaders, college students, and regular citizens joined the councilman in the tent, many of them spending the night. Neither Booker’s council colleagues nor Mayor James showed their faces, however. In a petty display, the police director, Joseph Santiago, refused to give Booker’s group overnight protec- tion because the councilman violated protocol by asking for help from a local police captain rather than top administrators. 27 “The resources of the police department are controlled by the police department, not the councilman,” Santiago said. 28 After more than a week of bad publicity, Mayor James ﬁ nally appeared with Booker at Garden Spires to announce an on-site police command post for the housing complex, as well as the building of a new park adjacent to the site. An exhausted, sick-looking Booker—twenty-ﬁ ve pounds lighter due to his hunger strike—thanked the mayor graciously. Booker, surpris- ingly, called James “the father of Newark.” Until then, the two men were known mostly as being each other’s worst critics, and speculation had already begun that they’d be rivals in the 2002 mayoral race. The mayor Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 247 seemed startled by Booker’s unexpected praise. Amid two hundred people crowding into the tent, Councilman Booker and Mayor James hugged.
In an even more stunning turn of events, the mayor, normally a vengeful man who held power with an iron grip, talked about the need to “pass the baton” to younger political leaders. “Just as there was a Ken Gibson and Sharpe James, there will be a Cory Booker and others,” said the mayor. In a touching scene, Booker and James were boosted by a cherry picker into the air, where they cut down a pair of boots hanging from a wire—a symbol that drugs were sold in the area. 29 By the following summer, Mayor James seemed tired and somewhat envious of the young councilman whose antics were drawing attention away from the mayor’s “renaissance.” With $30,000 in donations, Cory Booker had bought a battered 1987 RV and began parking it in different drug locations around the city. Then he’d simply wait for the media and police to take notice and help chase off the dealers. 30 Booker’s conspicuous actions attracted national attention, with features inTime and on 60 Minutes. He also drew plenty of local enmity. The day Booker started driving his RV, a four-page anonymous letter landed in the hands of every city leader. “Booker himself hates Newark,” the screed read.
“He is a mere publicity-stunt hound dog who is against everything and for nothing.” 31 Council members said Booker’s RV tour “lacked substance,” and that the delusional young councilman thought he was Superman. 32 Taking the long view, Sharpe James said that back when he was a rookie councilman, he too had been an idealistic, perhaps naïve young man on par with Cory Booker. The mayor also stated Booker had much to learn. “Grand- standing, I, too, was a grandstander,” said James. “I was the good guy. They were the bad guys. I refused to take a city car when I came onto the council. In the end, I had a city car. When the other council members were taking trips, I wouldn’t. In the end, you have to take the trips to do the work of the city.” 33 In the fall of 1997, Arthur Stern, chairman of the Manhattan-based ofﬁ ce developer Cogswell Realty Group, received a phone call from a realtor. There was an ofﬁ ce tower on the market in Newark that Cogswell might want to see, the realtor said. Stern asked around the ofﬁ ce to see if his partners were interested. “I don’t do Newark,” one replied bluntly, leaving it up to Stern and other colleagues to decide if they wanted to investigate. Stern, a tan, trim man with slicked-back hair, had never set foot in Newark. “The only thing I knew was 11 o’clock news footage of carjackings and muggings,” Stern later recalled. “That’s all you ever heard about Newark.” 34Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 248 r e bi rt h Stern and a small party agreed to check out the property to see if Newark really was as bad as its reputation. Nervous they’d attract too much atten- tion—the dangerous sort of attention—Stern and his associates changed out of their suits into jeans and T-shirts before making the afternoon trip from Manhattan to Newark. Driving into town, they kept their distance from other cars, especially at red lights, fearing a carjacking. They parked near the thirty-four-story Broad Street building up for sale, and periodically returned to make sure the car hadn’t been stolen.
Opened in 1930,74 4 Broad was once the state’s tallest, most prestigious tower. The Cogswell people discovered an Art Deco gem that had fallen apart over decades of neglect, most recently while the building was owned by powerful landlord Harry Helmsley. (Some people said that Helmsley and other landlords helped cause downtown Newark’s decline because they kept their highly visible buildings in such shoddy condition.) Murals of historic Newark inside 74 4 Broad had faded and suffered water damage. A slipshod drop ceiling covered ornate original plasterwork. The bathrooms were ﬁ lthy, the lighting system barely functional. Elevators worked in curious fashion.
One would hit ﬂ oor six only to arrive at ﬂ oor eight and have to walk down two ﬂ ights. Only 19 percent of the ofﬁ ces were occupied, and many of them were used by telecommunications companies that ﬁ lled the rooms with equipment and few people. But beyond the grime and the desolate ambiance, Stern saw enormous potential. The tower had “great bones,” as architectural connoisseurs say, with fantastic gilding, gorgeous details, and grand Art Deco touches that one didn’t ﬁ nd in modern buildings. 35 “Here was a building crying for attention,” Stern thought. More impor- tantly, “the city wasn’t what people said it was.” Visiting on a beautiful October afternoon, Stern felt safe on Newark’s streets, and saw as much potential in the city as he did in 74 4 Broad. He and his party walked past Military Park, donned hard hats, and toured NJPAC, which was nearing completion. The visitors were impressed. Before they returned through the Lincoln Tunnel, Stern and his partners had already lined up ﬁ nancing and theoretically agreed to purchase 74 4 Broad and pour $60 million into a renovation. They knew a much cheaper rehab could net quick and easy proﬁ ts, but decided that a facelift wouldn’t be the smartest investment. The top-shelf law ﬁ rms, architects, and software companies Cogswell hoped to attract away from the Gateway buildings would only relocate to a ﬁ rst-rate building.
A couple of months after Stern’s tour, his company purchased 74 4 Broad for an estimated $6 million—a mere $11 per square foot. Donald Trump, by contrast, had just bought a building on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue for about Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 249 $500 a square foot. 36 The National Newark Building, as Cogswell renamed 74 4 Broad, underwent a renovation that included the installation of period chandeliers, restored murals, and exterior lighting atop the building that glowed brilliantly after dark. The revamped tower was 82 percent full by early 2001. As the Times then wrote, the National Newark Building was “as good a symbol as any of the revival of the ofﬁ ce market in the downtown core of this formerly heavily industrial city.” 37 The National Newark Building’s turnaround was one of many improve- ments that might be attributed to the “NJPAC effect.” The arts center that Sharpe James had fought for so vehemently was yielding results in the form of a hot downtown ofﬁ ce market. Investors opened their eyes to the area’s safer image and prices that were a fraction of similar buildings in Jersey City or Manhattan. A dozen or so of Newark’s ofﬁ ce buildings traded hands around the arts center’s opening, with prices escalating as time passed. Gateway II, for example, sold for $35 million in 1996, and then promptly resold for $78 million just eighteen months later. All the while, Newark’s downtown ofﬁ ce rental rate crept higher, from under $17 a square foot in 1996, on average, up to over $27 a square foot in 2000. 38 The downtown renaissance seemed to snowball with the much-acclaimed 1999 return of pro baseball, when the Newark Bears moved into their freshly completed minor-league stadium. In the modern world, though, perhaps there’s no better sign of a city’s achievement, or at least its normalcy, than the presence of a Starbucks. The coffee chain opened its ﬁ rst Newark location in1999, on the ground ﬂ oor of Cogswell’s National Newark Building. Other national chains slowly followed, notably Home Depot, Kmart, and Old Navy, the last leasing space for one of its clothing shops in the old Bamberger’s department store on Market Street. 39 Newark also attained a certain level of hipness, with an emerging café scene along the Ironbound’s Ferry Street, an inﬂ ux of young residents drawn by cheap rents and authentic urban ﬂ avor, and the opening of Maize, the Robert Treat Hotel’s sleek bistro and cigar lounge, where executives and artists socialized and sipped martinis. Rumors circulated that Shaquille O’Neal, Robert DeNiro, Newark native Queen Latifah, and other high-proﬁ le names would soon be putting major money, along with their celebrity cachet, into one or another project in the city. 40 Sharpe James claimed responsibility for his city’s upward trajectory, yet the mayor still received heaps of criticism. For one thing, the apparent success of the new baseball stadium was tempered by the city’s costly subsidy of the team. Newark not only put $15 million into the six thousand-seat stadium, it agreed to let the Bears collect all revenues for its ﬁ rst season. The Newark Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 250 r e bi rt h government also paid $70,000 that ﬁ rst season for barely discounted tickets and food in order to give them away to residents. 41 Even worse, Newarkers didn’t seem to care much for the Bears, and the team faced competition due to the 1998 opening of another minor-league stadium a few miles away in suburban Little Falls. Over the years, less than half of the available tickets would sell for each game, on average, and the “ofﬁ cial attendance” ﬁ gures seemed to be higher than what the thousands of empty seats suggested. Stadium backers predicted at least four thousand fans per game, yet the Bears averaged less than three thousand tickets sold.
The team lost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. 42 The larger gripe about Sharpe James, and city leadership as a whole, was that any successes downtown had almost no impact in the neighbor- hoods where people actually lived. Hearing about the city’s “revival,” in fact, often stirred resentment among residents. Baseball stadiums and arts centers—these were gimmicks that failed to improve the life of the average Newarker, critics argued. If the city was doing so well, they wondered, why did a 1999 survey declare Newark the worst city in the United States for raising children? Why was unemployment still double the national average?
Why did one out of three Newark kids continue to live in poverty? Why did 123 Newarkers under age nineteen contract a sexually transmitted disease each month, on average? 43 Mayor James preached patience to constituents seeking quicker improvements. The neighborhoods had gotten better, the mayor argued, though the changes might be difﬁ cult to perceive. Around the millennium, homeownership rates stood at 26 percent, the mayor pointed out. It was far below the national rate of 49 percent, but a signiﬁ cant leap from the mid-1980s when only 14 percent of Newark residents owned homes. The number of violent crimes in Newark had plummeted from ten thousand per year in the early 1990s to below ﬁ ve thousand annually by 1999. Also, according to the 2000 census, Newark’s population had ﬁ nally stabilized.
Thousands of white and black residents had left the city in the early 1990s, but an inﬂ ux of newcomers—largely Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and other Latinos—meant Newark’s overall population dropped by less than 1 percent over the decade. 44 As the 2002 election loomed, and the possibility of a ﬁ fth term for Mayor Sharpe with it, the question became: Which picture of the city was more accurate? Was the city progressing on the right path? Or was the administra- tion holding the city back due to incompetence or corruption?
The two men embodying these opposing perspectives, Mayor James and Councilman Cory Booker, seemed predestined to face each other in the Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 251 2002 election. Despite their well-publicized hug inside Booker’s tent, they’d since been needling each other relentlessly at city meetings and community events. “How were the Hamptons?” the mayor asked Booker at one meeting, after hearing the councilman spent the weekend in the ritzy Long Island resort area rather than in his RV. Booker responded by telling the mayor he was going to “put him out to pasture.” 45 In another showdown, Booker was the lone council member to vote against giving the mayor a raise. By then, Sharpe James had become a state senator as well as Newark’s mayor, and his combined salaries made him the highest-paid ofﬁ cial in the state. 46 Mayor James followed his 2001 state-of-the-city address, which proclaimed Newark a “destination city,” by hosting his annual February birthday bash.
It was one of his biggest-ever parties, with more than a thousand supporters and colleagues. On his sixty-ﬁ fth birthday, more than a year before the 2002 elections, the mayor announced he would seek another term. 47 The thirty-two-year-old Cory Booker, in turn, declared his candidacy at an outdoor rally on a frigid day in January of 2002. “If there is a renais- sance in Newark,” Booker said, “then it’s time for a renaissance for the rest of us.” 48 At the time, Mayor James’s campaign slogan was “Experienced Leader- ship . . . Let’s Continue the Progress.” The young challenger, standing in front of Brick Towers, the dilapidated housing complex where he lived without heat or hot water, twisted the incumbent’s slogan. “This is not progress,” Booker said, waving an arm toward the rundown brick behemoths behind him. 49 One week into his governorship, James McGreevey visited Newark to attend a2002 Martin Luther King Day celebration with one his strongest allies, Mayor Sharpe James. At George Washington Carver School, in the South Ward that James had ﬁ rst represented as a councilman in 1970, McGreevey formally endorsed the mayor seeking a ﬁ fth term. The previous fall, a state bill had collapsed that would have funded a proposed $355 million downtown Newark arena to host the Devils and the Nets, which both sought to leave their aging arena in East Rutherford. Yet a few months later, mere days after the Cory Booker–Sharpe James mayoral matchup became ofﬁ cial, Governor McGreevey discussed the arena as if it was nearly a done deal. “Newark, you give me Sharpe James,” a smiling McGreevey said. Then, pointing his ﬁ nger to the crowd, McGreevey said, “Devils and Nets,” giving the implication that the city would land the new arena. 50 Promising money or gifts in exchange for votes is illegal, and McGreevey quickly backtracked, dismissing any notion of a quid pro quo arrangement Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 252 r e bi rt h linking James’s election and approval for the arena. Nonetheless, the insinu- ation had been set in the minds of voters. 51 Jim McGreevey arguably owed his gubernatorial election to Sharpe James.
“The governor knows who was there for him, and that’s why he’s here for me,” James said. 52 In 1997, McGreevey had lost the governor’s race to the Repub- lican incumbent Christie Whitman. Four years later, Democrats seemed to be lining up behind U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli as their candidate for governor, rather than Woodbridge’s mayor, Jim McGreevey—that is, until Sharpe James got involved. McGreevey was an old friend of Calvin West, the former Newark councilman and top advisor to James. McGreevey won over West’s and James’s support, partly by bringing along several philanthropists willing to write checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars to Newark community groups. With the inﬂ uential Sharpe James on board, McGreevey’s campaign took off, securing endorsements from most of the state’s African American leaders. 53 The newly elected governor, in turn, was doing all he could to repay the favor to James. Before McGreevey moved into the governor’s mansion, he offered Cory Booker the position of commissioner of the department of commerce—a move many viewed as a transparent attempt to get Booker out of the 2002 Newark mayoral election. The young councilman turned McGreevey down. 54 After thirty-two years in which he’d never lost an election, Mayor James easily shored up the support of leading Democrats all over the state. Most notably, Governor McGreevey and U.S. Senator Jon Corzine pushed hard for Sharpe James, no matter his administration’s history of scandals.
Allegiances were much harder to come by for Cory Booker. It was widely known that Sharpe James would lash back against his enemies vindictively.
A month after State Senator Ronald L. Rice lost the 1998 mayoral election to James, for example, Rice’s wife was laid off from her job in the mayor’s ofﬁ ce of employment. Even so, in 2002, Rice endorsed Sharpe James, supposedly with the idea that James would return the favor by not running in 2006 and essentially ceding that election to Rice. 55 People who wanted to support Booker were often scared off by James’s tactics. City agents suddenly arrived to hand out mysterious code viola- tions to businesses displaying Booker posters or churches hosting speaking engagements with the councilman. Police relentlessly ticketed cars with Booker stickers, and ripped down or painted over Booker signs. Public- housing residents who volunteered for Booker were threatened with eviction.
A restaurant was shut down the day before it was scheduled to host a Booker function. 56Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 253 Cory Booker took support where he could get it, generally among the younger generation of reform-minded believers. Ronald C. Rice, the state senator’s thirty-four-year-old son, seeing an opportunity to form a coalition of young leaders, broke ranks with his father, and ran for an at-large council position with Booker’s 2002 slate. (On the ballot and in campaign literature, the younger Rice was intentionally listed without his middle initial to nab support from voters who would confuse him with his father.) Pablo Fonseca, Newark’s former chief code inspector, who’d been a municipal employee for twelve years and who was ﬁ red in 1999 shortly after supporting a candidate opposing a James ally, became Booker’s campaign manager. 57 In the course of the 2002 election race, a total of $5 million would be spent, then the highest ever in Newark by far. Naturally, money became a frequently discussed campaign issue. James told his stories of growing up in a cold-water ﬂ at without a father. He harped on about Booker’s rich upbringing in white suburbia, and how so much of Booker’s funding suspiciously came from outside Newark. Booker’s people cracked back at the mayor’s substantial income through “double dipping” in two government ofﬁ ces, the Rolls Royce he drove, the millions in real estate he owned, and his failure to release his tax returns. 58 The attacks grew much uglier as the campaign progressed. Governor McGreevey lent Sharpe James his campaign manager, pollsters, and a media consultant who immediately revamped the mayor’s slogan to “The Real Deal.” The message—that James was authentic, and that Booker was anything but—dominated the mayor’s campaign. “He is a smoke-and-mirror poster boy,” Mayor James said of Booker. “His living in the camper was a publicity stunt. Everything is a publicity stunt. That was ﬁ ve days of taking pictures.” Again and again, James smacked Booker as a fraud. “He is a professional liar,” the mayor said. “His whole campaign is a David Copperﬁ eld. He is playing the public.” 59 Jesse Jackson endorsed his old friend Sharpe James and called Booker a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” despite the fact that Cory Booker worked for Jackson during his 1988 presidential campaign.
Though both candidates were black, James managed to bring race into the 2002 campaign, questioning Booker’s credentials as an African American. “It takes more to be black than just skin color,” James said. “It’s your experiences, it’s what you’ve gone through. Booker says he’s a Democrat, but he’s really a Republican inside. He says he’s proud to be black, but he hasn’t had any of the experiences we’ve had.” 60 James also called his opponent a “faggot white boy,” and accused him of “collaborating with the Jews to take over Newark.” 61 “Sharpe James is running a campaign that uses every attempt possible to distract voters from the issues,” Booker countered, attempting to seize the Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 254 r e bi rt h higher ground. “He’s making racial allegations; he’s appealing to people’s worst fears. And if all he can bring to the table is negativity and bigotry, then he’s going to lose.” 62 A few weeks before the election, police raided a topless club called Sights and arrested two dozen women, including a sixteen-year-old girl. One of Booker’s aides had been waiting outside the club and was detained by police, providing James with fresh ammunition to bombard the moral stance taken by his opponent. Hundreds of ﬂ yers were mailed out reporting the incident, and James distorted the facts in speeches. The strip club was “a place of prostitution and narcotics,” where “fourteen-year-olds are doing live sex acts,” the mayor told crowds. 63 Unfortunately for Sharpe James, the owner of the strip club grew disgusted by the mayor’s hypocrisy. James himself had visited the club on more than one occasion in the past, the owner announced publicly. Several security guards and topless dancers backed up the claims. “He looked like he was having a good time,” one dancer said of the mayor. 64 The intensity of voter intimidation, wild propaganda, and race-baiting hadn’t been seen in a Newark election since 1970. The spectacle was too fasci- nating for the media to resist. The campaign received attention from the likes of The Economist, the Wall Street Journal,The Today Show, and the front page of the New York Times. In the matchup of the aging machine kingpin versus the independent, young reformer—a larger, ﬁ ercer replay of Booker’s 1998 city council campaign, really—journalists tended to fawn over the challenger.
They were enamored by Booker’s inclusive, post-racial campaign, which drew support from a wide spectrum that included Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican Jack Kemp. Booker’s run for ofﬁ ce was often compared to the candidacies of Bobby Kennedy, John Lindsay, George McGovern, and other visionary idealists. In an age of cynics, Booker’s earnest, perhaps naïve, approach genuinely inspired people. Many of them eagerly volunteered to work in the grim, old industrial factory serving as Booker’s campaign headquarters. Booker was their Muhammad Ali to James’s Joe Frazier, as one magazine put it. 65 Or, to use a more local metaphor, Booker was their Ken Gibson to Sharpe James’s Hugh Addonizio, their principled leader for change targeting the incumbent’s tired, corrupt regime.
TheStar-Ledger and the New York Times gave Cory Booker back-to- back endorsements. “What the city needs now is a dynamic new leader unencumbered by Newark’s long, corrosive history of machine politics who can take it to the next level,” wrote the Times. “Cory Booker ﬁ ts the bill.” 66 TheLedger, in an extraordinary long, fourteen hundred-word editorial, hammered Sharpe James’s so-called renaissance: “The city still has too many Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 255 vacant lots, too many drug corners, too many fences topped with razor wire and too many derelict, boarded-up buildings.” Listing the awful conditions for kids, widespread incompetence at City Hall, city contracts delivered to unqualiﬁ ed political donors, and James’s lack of plans to increase jobs or improve schools, the Ledger wrote, “Newark deserves better. It is time for a change.” 67 To many Newarkers, however, such endorsements meant nothing. The people writing those editorials were outsiders like Cory Booker who didn’t know Newark. Some voters may have been more inﬂ uenced by the endorse- ments James received from New Jersey’s top Democrats or national African American leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Late in the campaign, Sharpton visited Newark on James’s behalf and drew a crowd to a Pathmark that had opened under the mayor’s watch. “He has PRO-duced houses!” Sharpton riffed in front of the supermarket’s produce aisle. “He had PRO- duced crime cuts! He’s PRO-duced education! He’s always in front of the PRO-duce!” 68 On a spring afternoon, Governor Jim McGreevey rallied a crowd of James supporters beneath a tent in the North Ward. Behind the governor was a carefully chosen backdrop: a handsome new public-housing complex of two- story townhouses, which the James administration had built to replace the old Columbus Homes projects. While awkwardly holding the mayor’s raised hand, the thin, pasty-white governor with short black hair led the chant, “SHARP JAMES is the REAL DEAL!” Years afterward, when McGreevey faced a sexual harassment lawsuit from a male subordinate and famously came out to his wife and the world as a “gay American,” the “real deal” chant would seem ironic. As McGreevey later wrote in his autobiography, standing by Sharpe James’s side, even as James called Booker a “faggot white boy” came down to “self-interest and not ethics.” 69 One week before Newark’s 2002 election, Governor McGreevey appeared again in the city, this time at NJPAC. Standing in front of Sharpe James, as well as two former governors, much of Newark’s city council, and several state legislators, McGreevey announced a new financing plan for the proposed arena in downtown Newark. A number of details had yet to be ﬁ nalized—redevelopment plans, coming to agreements with team owners, getting approval of the legislature—but McGreevey said that the Nets and the Devils would soon be playing in Newark. Mayor James, grinning from ear to ear, declared that with the new arena, Newark would be “the comeback city of America.” 70 The arena and the high-profile endorsements may have been good campaign tools, but a certain segment of Newark residents loyally defended Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 256 r e bi rt h their mayor for altogether different reasons. Sharpe James had been with them through the truly rough years. When few people had anything nice to say about Newark, James had been the city’s hardest-hitting promoter. Mayor James consistently delivered for Newark, they reasoned, and now it was up to Newark to return the favor via four more years. Older African Americans, in particular, supported the mayor, perhaps because he’d helped them get a job or had unfailingly come through with money for community centers.
Or people simply loved Mayor James because they felt they understood him, and he understood them. Newark without Sharpe James was almost unimaginable. At campaign stops, people living in some of the city’s worst housing complexes spontaneously burst into song when the mayor arrived.
“Sha-ah-arpe James, he’s our MAY-yor,” they cheered, mimicking the chorus of the campaign song blared all over town for weeks. 71 “The Real Deal” message hit home with many voters. The suspicion some people held regarding Cory Booker, the uppity, judgmental do-gooder from the suburbs, could not be underestimated. “Come Tuesday,” a sixty-ﬁ ve- year-old James volunteer told a reporter in anticipation of the election, “we’re going to send this interloper packing.” To demonstrate his disgust for everything Booker stood for, the volunteer ﬁ nished his statement by spitting on the sidewalk. 72 “You can’t bring in a bunch of out-of-towners and white lawyers and tell me how to vote,” another longtime James supporter said. 73 On election day, the vote was divided largely along ethnic lines. Booker carried the predominantly Latino and Portuguese neighborhoods. James won 59 percent of the votes in African American areas. The polarizing campaign James ran had successfully resulted in polarized election results. And in the city where blacks were the majority, Sharpe James was again victorious, receiving 53 percent of the total vote. 74 The day after his ninth consecutive win in political ofﬁ ce, the mayor canceled an afternoon press conference and then, surprisingly, appeared on the steps of City Hall amid cameramen, journalists, and dozens of supporters.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” Sharpe James said, initially discussing in modest terms the need to ﬁ ght crime and ﬁ x the schools. Then, prompted by a question about the arena promised by Governor McGreevey, the ﬂ ashy old joker in Sharpe James returned. “Everyone’s going to get a job!” the mayor shouted to the crowd roaring with excitement. “I might even be selling hot dogs at the arena.” 75 By early 2004 it was evident that if Newark actually did land a downtown arena, the facility wouldn’t be hosting professional basketball anytime soon. Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 257 New York developer Bruce Ratner won a bidding war to purchase the New Jersey Nets and was intent on bringing the team to a new arena planned for Brooklyn. No matter Jim McGreevey’s promises, the governor had failed in two years in ofﬁ ce to convince the state legislature to get behind the Newark arena. Now New Jersey had lost one of its pro sports franchises.
With or without the Nets, Mayor Sharpe James refused to let his dream die. He quickly introduced plans for a new arena that would host pro hockey, college basketball, concerts, and the like. Under the new arrangement, Newark wouldn’t need an OK from the state. All ﬁ nancing would come from the city, the Devils organization, and private developers. 76 In a rare turn of fortune, Newark was due to receive a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars from the Port Authority’s leasing of the airport. The mayor wanted to use approximately $200 million of that money to build the arena. The Devils were expected to pay another $100 million or so. People with experience constructing arenas said that even $350 million wouldn’t be nearly enough to cover all the expenses involved, especially in a state like New Jersey where labor costs were higher than the average. The larger criticism, however, was that funding an arena was a foolish waste of money in a city that had so many other pressing needs. The Star-Ledger rounded up more than two dozen experts who concluded as much in the course of offering several other uses for the $210 million. The proposals included: creating a downtown develop- ment fund to attract investment and new businesses; dramatically renovating the waterfront; building an arts district; and investing in job-training acad- emies. Each of the proposals cost a fraction of the cost of the arena, so several of them could go forward at the same time. These ideas would arguably bring in more revenues to the city in the long run than a sports facility, and they certainly would create more immediate full-time jobs. 77 Nonetheless, Sharpe James pushed his agenda through with the help of a majority of the city council. Council members and citizens argued for two hours over James’s proposal before the council approved it in a 6–3 vote.
Mayor James, accustomed to unanimous support, attributed the rigorous opposition to former councilman Cory Booker and his allies. “They want to see no progress in the city before 2006,” said James. “It’s a sad day when you have Cory Booker trying to destroy the city.” 78 Two years had passed since the bitter 2002 election, yet Booker and James continued sparring in public. Booker, only thirty-three at the election, had immediately vowed to run again for mayor. Sharpe James remained mum on the possibility of a sixth term, though he took every opportunity to criticize his young nemesis. The night of the election, Booker gave a concession speech before calling to congratulate the mayor—a faux pas. (An election Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 258 r e bi rt h loser traditionally calls before conceding publicly.) When Booker dialed Sharpe James, the mayor refused to come to the phone. Booker called again, and again James rejected him. 79 While Sharpe James tried to build on his legacy with a new arena, Cory Booker became a partner in a West Orange law ﬁ rm, founded a nonproﬁ t community group called Newark Now, and worked steadily attracting support for another election run. It didn’t take long before observers started getting a sense that the wily old mayor was on his last legs. “Everyone’s rising against him,” one Democratic insider said of James just half a year after his 2002 election. “He’s considered a lame duck.” 80 In the spring of 2003, a slate of school-board candidates endorsed by Cory Booker trounced the mayor’s establishment ticket. “The election is the ﬁ rst obvious sign” of changes to come, said Booker. “To see this many people going against the machine at their own risk is great.” 81 When Sharpe James presented his new downtown-arena proposal, Booker didn’t oppose the mayor, but instead took a stand demanding that the community be involved in the planning. “This decision is far bigger than him or me,” said Booker. “No one should be making decisions about this $200 million without the full inclusion of the community. It’s too large a piece of the city’s resources.” 82 The Booker-James war hadn’t ended in May of 2002. The battles may have come less frequently, but the hostility was as intense as it had ever been.
At a 2005 city youth basketball tournament, ironically called “Unity in the Community,” Mayor James insulted a few men standing by Cory Booker as “paid goons” and “political whores.” The mayor directed his comments to Councilman Luis Quintana and a political consultant named Oscar James (no relation to the mayor), both former James allies who had defected to Booker’s side. The clash escalated into a pushing and shoving match in which one of the mayor’s bodyguards had to be restrained by police. The mayor reportedly threatened to knock Cory Booker out, prompting Booker to get in Sharpe James’s face and yell, “You want to hit me? Come on, hit me.” 83 Many observers speculated that the ugly showdown was orchestrated by Booker to send the message that he was not the same man Sharpe James had slapped down in the 2002 election. Now the soft Ivy League boy was literally ready to ﬁ ght. It remained unclear whether Sharpe James had the energy and desire to meet the challenge in another election.
Even with the criticism of the arena—would fans of the “white” sport of hockey really ﬂ ock to Newark?—getting approval for the project was a major coup for the forceful mayor. The city also continued to gain national attention for its improved downtown, which obviously boded well for Sharpe Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 259 James. Inc. magazine named Newark one of the top ten cities in the country for doing business in 2004. A USA Today feature story praised the city, citing in particular Newark’s range of attractive, affordable housing and greatly improved transit systems. 84 It seemed that just as often, however, Mayor James attracted bad press.
Street Fight, an Academy Award–nominated documentary ﬁ lm covering the2002 mayoral race, was released in 2005 and introduced national audi- ences to Sharpe James’s antics, which came across as paranoid, hateful, and hypocritical. The ﬁ lm shows three busloads of Pennsylvania workers paid by the James campaign who arrive in Newark to canvass streets and bring James voters into the polls. The movie then cuts to a scene of Sharpe James praising his “volunteer army” and criticizing Booker’s “paid army.” In late 2005, news surfaced that for years a select few politically connected ﬁ gures had been given inside lines to purchase vacant city land at ﬁ re-sale prices. The land was then developed with multifamily homes or quickly ﬂ ipped to other buyers. Either way, the proﬁ ts were enormous. The city had regularly sold lots for $4 a square foot when the going rate was closer to $30 a square foot. Rather than putting the land up for public auction, Newark potentially lost out on millions by quietly steering parcels at dirt-cheap rates to companies such as ATS Development Group. The company’s owner had run an East Ward auto shop and had no experience in housing developments when he suddenly got into the business in 2001. A partner of ATS happened to be Jackie Mattison, Sharpe James’s disgraced former chief of staff, who’d gone to jail in 1997 on bribery charges and was released in 2000. Between 2001 and 2005, ATS purchased 116 city lots. The properties’ total assessed value was $1.4 million, yet ATS bought them for less than $300,000. The company had since built seventy-four homes and stood to reap phenomenal proﬁ ts. Several longtime James supporters beneﬁ ted from similarly cozy real estate deals. Jacinto Rodrigues, for instance, who regularly donated to James’s campaigns, bought 4.7 acres in the Ironbound in 2000 for just a dollar. He then constructed ﬁ fty-two family homes in a development called Sumo Villages and sold them off for more than $17 million. 85 Jackie Mattison’s shady real estate transactions weren’t limited to city- owned lots. Not long after he’d been released from prison, Mattison opened a downtown ofﬁ ce and was openly welcomed at nearby City Hall. Security guards allowed Sharpe James’s old friend and conﬁ dante Mattison to bypass the building’s metal detectors. Over a seven-week period in early 2005, companies controlled by Mattison banked over $1 million in three quick and easy deals. In each instance, Mattison purchased the property, used his VIP status to secure city approvals or permits, and resold them shortly afterward Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 260 r e bi rt h at huge proﬁ ts. Mattison bought one home for a mere $26,500, for example, and on the very same day sold it for $299,000. 86 Sickened by the barrage of negative media attention, Sharpe James and the city council gave a $100,000 no-bid contract to a publishing company whose job it was to print “positive stories” about Newark. The move backﬁ red.
Metro Visions Weekly, as the publication was known, became a laughingstock.
The concept of a city so desperate for positive news coverage it would pay for it was ridiculed by media outlets around the world, including Comedy Central’s satire The Daily Show. 87 Sharpe James remained coy regarding the 2006 election well into early 2006. On the night of his twentieth state-of-the-city address, Mayor James delivered a sermon heralding his city’s renaissance. A video showed Spring- ﬁ eld Avenue circa the 1967 riots, followed by images of the street today, where a Home Depot had just opened. The speech ended with chants of “four more years, four more years” from a crowd of supporters, but the mayor refused to say whether he was running or not. 88 While everyone speculated about the likelihood of another James campaign, the mayor executed a maneuver aimed at maintaining his hold on power whether or not he was in ofﬁ ce. On Wednesday, March 1, James oversaw the incorporation of two nonproﬁ ts. The mayor named himself as a trustee of both organizations with terms that never expired. He was also in charge of recruiting other board members, ensuring he had the dominant voice. On the very same day that the two nonproﬁ ts came into existence—before some people were even alerted that they’d been named to the organizations’ boards—the city council approved endowments for them totaling $80 million. Mayor James had gotten the council to support his hastily made plans by guaranteeing at least $6 million for each of the city’s ﬁ ve wards. What exactly Sharpe James’s two organizations might do with the rest of the funds remained vague. “The mayor is setting himself up to give money to his friends,” said Councilman Luis Quintana, a Cory Booker ally and one of the few council members to vote against the endowments. 89 A lawsuit ﬁ led by Newark residents prompted the state to step in, however, and funding for James’s two organizations was put on hold, impeding the mayor at least momentarily. 90 And then one afternoon, Sharpe James hopped on a mountain bike and pedaled around the third ﬂ oor of City Hall. On Thursday, March 16,2006, Mayor James registered what has to be one of the most bizarre performances in the history of New Jersey politics. Half an hour before the ﬁ ling deadline for mayoral candidates, James borrowed a police bike and dodged reporters and TV cameras on two loops around Newark government headquarters. Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 261 He dismounted at the city clerk’s ofﬁ ce and removed his yellow-and-black Malcolm X Shabazz High School letter jacket. Wearing shorts, gold chains, sunglasses, a straw hat, and a black tank top that revealed the seventy-year- old mayor’s thick biceps rippling with veins, James delivered a post-ofﬁ ce cart full of paper with ﬁ ve times the number of signatures required for a candidate to run for ofﬁ ce. 91 Still, the mayor didn’t state directly that he would actually be running for another term. “I ﬁ led the petitions, and that should speak volumes as to what I’m going to do,” he said. A reporter asked James how he was going to deal with his well-ﬁ nanced young opponent, and the mayor wisecracked, “Who is Cory Booker?” 92 The odd scene at City Hall stirred immediate attention for the Street Fight rematch. The New York Times even assigned a pair of reporters to blog about the campaign. A week and a half after his bike ride, though, Sharpe James addressed a letter to the city clerk. “As an opponent of dual ofﬁ ce holding, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2006 Newark Municipal Election and hereby request that my name be removed from the ballot,” the letter began. Over six pages, James rambled on in a retrospective of his career, mentioning everything from his days as a community activist to his “precious” experience staying in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House. He rehashed the city’s desperate situation when he ﬁ rst came to ofﬁ ce, and its startling turnaround from “urban blight to urban bright” with him as mayor. He produced mysterious statistics no one had heard of—a $400 million budget surplus? Polls showing James leading the mayoral race with 60 percent? (Both were news to everyone covering City Hall, and later proved false.) Housing, police, business, and schools had all improved dramatically under his watch, according to James. In thirty-six years in ofﬁ ce, “I received and gave heartfelt love to the wonderful citizens of Newark, who became my extended family,” James wrote. “No publicity stunts. No false, undeserved, and unwarranted or self-serving media-driven support. In fact, I had no media support whatsoever, even when deserved! And no outsiders controlled us. We were from Newark, for Newark, and loved Newark.” 93 Cory Booker’s name was not mentioned once in James’s letter, yet the mayor attacked his “closest challenger” directly and by inference throughout.
Since the last election, James wrote that his “challenger had been invisible, inactive, a ‘no show’ at community events and living out of the city.” The mayor said that supporters constantly told him, “Sharpe, there is no way you will not be a candidate in 2006. No one simply gives up power. You can’t do it. You still have that ﬁ ght in you. Let’s win the sixth term and then retire!
Let’s drive your opponent out of Newark forever.”Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 262 r e bi rt h Sharpe James claimed there was every indication he could do just that.
But, the mayor wrote, his opposition to dual ofﬁ ce holding was simply too strong to allow him to continue serving as a mayor and a state senator. Few people bought the mayor’s explanation as the true reason he was dropping out of the race. James had held two political ofﬁ ces going on seven years, so the timing of his announced opposition to “double dipping” was more than a little suspect. If dual ofﬁ ce holding truly was the issue, it would have been just as easy for James to resign as a state senator, which was the less important of his two posts. Also, for a man who had just ridden a bike in City Hall and ﬂ exed his buff arms to reporters, it took plenty of chutzpah to write the words “no publicity stunts.” Rumors immediately spread that Booker had paid James off, or at least promised not to go after him legally for any misdeeds James may have been a part of while in ofﬁ ce. Booker denied that any such arrangement occurred.
“I think Sharpe did an internal calculus and made a decision for himself,” Booker said. “I think he made a rational decision.” Cory Booker did conﬁ rm that he and James had convened two weeks before the mayor dropped out of the race. People in the Booker campaign said the meeting was mainly about Sharpe James’s son John, who was running for the South Ward council seat.
Both sides said no deal had been brokered. 94 Ronald L. Rice faced Cory Booker in the mayoral election, but because Sharpe James dropped out of the contest so late, it was difﬁ cult for Rice to muster up much of a challenge. Booker had some $6 million to use in the campaign, while Rice’s disorganized team had around $150,000. Booker secured three times as many votes as Rice—72 percent of the total, repre- senting the biggest landslide mayoral victory in Newark history. 95 A month later, in the council race runoffs, every candidate endorsed by Cory Booker won. With Booker’s support, three Latinos (and one member of Portuguese descent) would be on the council, the most ever. 96 Like African Americans and other ethnic groups before them, Newark’s Latinos trickled into the city seeking opportunity and eventually scraped their way to positions of political and economic clout. Immigrants from the Caribbean and South and Central America took hold as the North Ward’s majority population in the 1990s, and by 2000, Latinos constituted about one-third of the city as a whole. Along Broadway and other main thoroughfares cutting through the North Ward, an area once dominated by Italian-owned businesses, signs for restaurants, travel agencies, and bodegas were increasingly written in Spanish. Leaﬂ ets advertising soccer matches featuring Central and South American national teams ﬁ lled storefront windows. The group began ﬂ exing its political muscles in the mid-1990s, Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. a renaissance for the rest of us 263 when Luis Quintana, Newark’s ﬁ rst at-large Latino councilman, led an assault challenging Steve Adubato Sr.’s longtime stranglehold on power in the North Ward, and around Essex County as a whole. While Adubato couldn’t be ousted entirely, Latinos were rapidly emerging as players who demanded respect—and positions of authority and power. In 2000, Mayor Sharpe James appointed Amilkar Velez-Lopez, a North Ward attorney, as a municipal judge. Quintana was joined on the council in 2002 with fellow Latino (and Mayor James’s deputy mayor) Hector Corchado, who defeated Anthony Carrino, a twenty-eight-year incumbent and the last of the city’s Italian American council members. With the support of Steve Adubato and Cory Booker, Anibal Ramos Jr., an up-and-coming player with a background in education, nonproﬁ ts, and county government, in turn beat Corchado in the 2006 election. Carlos Gonzalez, a lawyer, entrepreneur, and native of Puerto Rico, won a seat in 2006 as an at-large councilman, as did the incumbent Luis Quintana. 97 Besides being a triumph of the Booker slate, the 2006 election was one of the best demonstrations of how Newark politics was and is a family business.
Ronald C. Rice, at once a Cory Booker ally and the son of the man Booker faced off against, was elected as West Ward councilman. Ras Baraka, the son of poet and political activist Amiri Baraka, had made peace with Mayor James and was named to a city council seat after one member died. Then, in June of 2006, the short-term incumbent Baraka failed again to get enough votes to hold onto his at-large council seat. John James, Sharpe’s son, had been placed on the 2006 ballot as “J. Sharpe James.” (The middle name of all three of James’s sons was Sharpe, the maiden name of the mayor’s mother.) Even with the purposeful name confusion, John James lost the South Ward election to a candidate on the Booker slate, Oscar James II. That James was the son of one of Booker’s key consultants, Oscar James Sr., a powerful player who was forbidden from holding political ofﬁ ce due to a 1991 guilty plea to mail fraud, but had long been a top advisor to Sharpe James. 98 In the weeks leading up to Cory Booker’s inauguration, Mayor James stayed mostly out of sight, leaving the country at least once. The mayor elect, meanwhile, met regularly with media outlets and steadfastly preached safety as the number-one issue in the new administration. “I have no stomach for, and cannot tolerate, children being shot,” said Booker. He announced the city would immediately be hiring ﬁ fty to sixty new police ofﬁ cers, and taking another seventy-ﬁ ve or so off of desk duty and putting them out on the streets. At the same time, security efforts for Booker had to be increased due to a handful of death threats, including one from members of the Bloods street gang. 99Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 264 r e bi rt h Even after he had won ofﬁ ce, Booker had to defend himself against the old criticism that he would jump ship and leave Newark once a plum national post presented itself. “This is not a stepping stone for me,” the mayor-elect declared. “This is an end game, to take an American city so many people have given up on, a city full of people who have never given up on the American dream, and work with them to create something that’s a better reﬂ ection of what this country stands for. That’s something I’ve dreamed of all my life, to be involved in a righteous struggle, a righteous ﬁ ght. I’m here for at least two terms, and I’ll consider running for a third whenever that is. This is where I was meant to be.” 100Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 265 10 Stand Up a new administration, a new arena, and some age-old struggles Cory Booker began Monday, July 3,2006—his ﬁ rst full work day as mayor— with a 6:30 am tour of the Fifth Precinct, the Newark police department’s South Ward headquarters. The building, opened in 1911, hadn’t been renovated in at least three decades. Rotting, rusted air conditioners jutted from the windows. Inside, mold climbed walls, ceilings leaked, and foul stenches emanated from bathrooms that were in such poor condition that police ofﬁ cers used the facilities in nearby businesses instead. The detective squad shared a single computer. Regular police ofﬁ cers used “typewriters that belonged in museums,” as the mayor put it, like a scene out of the old TV cop show Barney Miller. Appalled, Mayor Booker invited reporters to take a look at the building with him. “This looks like a tour of a disaster zone, not a police precinct,” the mayor said. He quickly ordered that the new computer on his desk in City Hall be sent to the precinct, where it was needed more. 1 Mayor Booker next moved on to City Hall, where he greeted city employees, shook hands, asked names, and smiled. Then, with a ﬂ ashlight in hand, the mayor asked a police ofﬁ cer to bring him to the building’s dank, dusty sub-basement, an area known as the “dungeon.” Musty mounds of papers and trash ﬁ lled the low-ceilinged level. “City Hall reﬂ ects the city in every aspect, and this is not a good reﬂ ection,” said Booker. 2 The morning’s performance, watched by the media at every turn, had a bit of stagecraft to it; surely this was not the ﬁ rst time Cory Booker had visited the Fifth Precinct or City Hall’s dungeon. Nonetheless, the message hit home: Newark’s new leader would immediately confront the dysfunction that permeated the city, if need be by spelunking through the ugly bowels of bureaucracy, mismanagement, and corruption.Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 266 r e bi rt h Deeper levels of dysfunction grew apparent with each passing day. The mayor noticed a clerk at City Hall’s employee entrance assigning workers to different responsibilities as they arrived. Mayor Booker asked the clerk the obvious: didn’t people know where they had to go to work? With a surprised look, she replied, “Mayor, I don’t know who’s going to show up each day.” Never sure of who was going to arrive ready for work, she was accustomed to doling out duties on the ﬂ y. Long ago, she’d tried to discipline or ﬁ re workers, but those efforts had always been quashed by Mayor James. In a similar vein, Booker discovered that workman’s compensation claims were never investigated under the James administration. Normally, 30 percent of such claims are proven bogus, but in Newark, checks were quickly issued without question to thousands of employees who said they were somehow injured on the job. 3 An audit commissioned by Mayor Booker revealed that Newark had lost out on $80 million in tax revenue due to mismanagement and incom- petence. Late in the James administration, for example, the city simply stopped trying to collect unpaid water bills, losing out on millions. More than10 percent of tax and water bills sent to residents were returned to the city as undeliverable, yet there was no system of tracking the bad addresses.
As a result, the city wasted more than $100,000 every month on postage for bills that never reached their intended address. In several instances, city contracts for towing and other services had inexplicably gone to the highest bidders, the audit showed. 4 As for the police department, the physical condition of its buildings was hardly the only problem. Because of perplexing bureaucratic practices and outdated technology, nearly one-third of all ofﬁ cers spent their time answering phones or ﬁ lling out paperwork, rather than policing the streets.
Federal grants were available to purchase new police cars, computers, and other equipment, but no one had bothered to claim the funds. Some 60 percent of police ofﬁ cers worked solely during the daytime, rather than at night when they were needed more. The city had no narcotics unit, and the gang unit worked exclusively during hours when gangs were least likely to be active, 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday. 5 Inefficiency and disorganization likewise infiltrated Newark’s court system. Paying a simple trafﬁ c ticket could easily gobble up two hours.
Countless people showed up for court dates to discover their names were not listed in the computer. Police ofﬁ cers often never received messages requesting them to testify. Prosecutors were always pleasantly surprised when an ofﬁ cer actually appeared in court on the proper day. Well aware that the system was a mess, citizens accused of violations knew that their cases would Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 267 likely be dismissed so long as they were willing to line up and wait all day to be called by the court. 6 From the time Sharpe James dropped out of the 2006 election, speculation arose over who Cory Booker would name as top appointees to help solve the city’s troubles. Would Booker, the Ivy Leaguer from the suburbs, choose well- educated outsiders like himself? Would he hold over any of Mayor James’s appointees, or otherwise tap homegrown talent? Would he make a point of hiring people of color? The new mayor offered a ﬂ at response to all of these questions: “We have a single standard: hire the best. I’m not going to play this insider-outsider game. My standard is not politics.” The mayor said he refused to factor race into the equation, even with the frequent promptings of his chief of staff, Pablo Fonseca, who often said: “This is Newark—it matters.” 7 Critics, including several of the mayor’s city council allies, said the team assembled by Booker consisted of too many whites, too many outsiders, and too many folks with impressive academic records but not enough experience related to their duties. The two men the mayor appointed as his top police ofﬁ cials particularly worried some Newarkers, and not only because both were white. Anthony Campos, a Newark native of Portuguese ancestry and twenty-year department veteran, was named police chief. Mayor Booker stood by him during a mini-scandal in which photographs surfaced of Campos in uniform with nearly naked women during a 1993 show hosted by radio’s Howard Stern. Mayor Booker named Garry McCarthy, a gruff, goateed twenty-ﬁ ve-year veteran of the New York Police Department, as his police director. He, too, was attached to a minor scandal; the previous year, McCarthy and his wife were arrested and ﬁ ned after interfering with a police ofﬁ cer ticketing their daughter for parking in a handicapped spot. Again, Booker defended his appointee, and stated the color of his appointees’ skin was unimportant. “I’m tired of racial politics,” Booker said. 8 Of Mayor Booker’s African American appointees, several had no previous ties to Newark. They also tended to be young. Keith Kinard, a thirty-seven- year-old lawyer and director of Pittsburgh’s housing authority, was wooed to Newark to take over the Newark Housing Authority, which ranked in the bottom 5 percent of all such U.S. agencies and was threatened with federal takeover. Bo Kemp, also thirty-seven, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, became Newark’s business administrator, even though he’d never been an administrator of a large government or private organization. His background was limited mostly to publishing, investment groups, and Internet startups. More worrisome to Newarkers, however, was that Kemp didn’t reside in Newark, or even elsewhere in New Jersey. He lived with his wife and four children in New York’s Westchester County. 9Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 268 r e bi rt h The presence of so many whites and outsiders in the administration was met with a mix of anger, fear, and insecurity among insular Newarkers.
Weren’t hardworking, lifelong Newark residents good enough to serve the new mayor? they wondered. They worried the city was drifting out of their control and into the hands of corporations and individuals who had no clue about life in the ghetto. “Some people around the city are beginning to call this place ‘Occupied Newark,’” said poet-activist and outspoken Booker critic Amiri Baraka. 10 The new “occupiers” were the kinds of people who could afford Cory Booker’s $500-a-head inauguration gala at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium. Old Newarkers resented people coming into their city simply to get in on the real estate market just as it was booming, or to break bread and establish relationships with the hotshot young mayor.
However, the criticisms of Mayor Booker rarely matched the support and adulation thrown his way, from inside and outside Newark. Most people were won over by the young mayor with boundless energy, obvious intel- ligence, old-fashioned charisma, and a disposition that appropriately shifted from cheerful to thoughtful, determined to angry. Mayor Booker was also renowned as an empathetic listener, with gifts as a speaker that many a preacher would envy. At Booker’s inaugural speech at NJPAC, the crowd of two thousand burst into ovation dozens of times, none louder and more frenzied than when the new mayor harped on crime. “We have work to do in America when any child is killed,” he cried. “I will now lead the charge to take back our streets.” 11 “This nation has struggled to be a more perfect union. It still has more work to do,” Mayor Booker later proclaimed in his inaugural address.
“Newark, let us save the dream. Let us reclaim the dream.” As a guest speaker at high school graduations and the like, Cory Booker often invoked the idea that people must “stand up”—for righteousness, for one’s beliefs, for the sake of humanity, for the people who had proudly stood up for good causes in the past. As his inaugural speech rose to a crescendo, Booker asked the crowd, “Will you stand with me?” “Yes,” they cheered, louder and louder each time the mayor repeated the line, at once a question and call to action. “Will you stand with me?” 12 Cory Booker’s celebrity status soared once he settled into the mayor’s ofﬁ ce. Magazines from Essence to Time featured Newark’s handsome new leader, and Esquire asked him to pen a story on his experiences in the city.
He campaigned with another post-racial, charismatic political superstar, presidential candidate Barack Obama. Gossip columns tied Booker romanti-Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 269 cally to Oprah Winfrey’s high-proﬁ le best friend, Gayle King. When Oprah welcomed Booker on her TV show a few months into his term as mayor, she introduced him by saying, “By all accounts, Cory Booker has the makings of a golden boy.” 13 It remained to be seen if the ambitious, forward-thinking Booker admin- istration could live up to the hype amid the daunting, rough-and-tumble atmosphere of Newark politics. To keep himself focused on his reformist ideals, Mayor Booker kept in his pocket a copy of his far-reaching mission statement. The piece of paper listed grand goals in which Newark would “set a standard for urban transformation” and be “America’s leading urban city.” 14 From day one, Mayor Booker set a tone of openness and innovation that broke sharply from the old business-as-usual mode of government.
He not only shook hands on that ﬁ rst day as mayor at City Hall, he asked city employees what he could do to help them do their jobs better. He also welcomed their suggestions. “I like ideas,” he said. “The best ideas come from the front lines.” City workers seemed pleasantly shocked that anyone cared what they thought. “No one ever wanted to listen” in the past, one building inspector said. 15 Changes were instituted on many fronts. Aides began serving fruit in addition to doughnuts at City Hall ofﬁ ces. Parking tickets could be paid online. Gifts to politicians from companies with city contracts were banned.
Garbage men picked up trash earlier and more efﬁ ciently. 16 New approaches to battling crime, which Booker himself called the linchpin of his administration, deservedly received the most attention. While with the NYPD, Police Director Garry McCarthy had helped set up Comstat, the crime-tracking program that was credited for the plummeting crime rates during the Giuliani administration and had since been adopted around the country. McCarthy installed the system in Newark and sent out patrols strategically to crime-ridden spots. Residents were surprised to see police ofﬁ cers, who in the past only appeared when there was a complaint, regularly walking neighborhood beats. The police director put hundreds more ofﬁ cers out on the streets and altered shifts so that more cops were on duty at night and on weekends. For generations, Newark’s police department had played favorites. There was no written test for promotions, and plum assignments had routinely gone to unqualiﬁ ed yet well-connected Italian ofﬁ cers in the past, and to African Americans more recently. Experienced, highly respected ofﬁ cers, meanwhile, were often transferred to the worst beats if they refused to sell tickets to Sharpe James’s birthday parties. McCarthy vowed to establish a meritocracy and remove politics from the department. He also doubled the size of the gang unit, and established squads dedicated to tackling narcotics Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 270 r e bi rt h and tracking down fugitives. 17 With Mayor Booker’s support, McCarthy targeted the “quality of life” crimes—grafﬁ ti, littering, and so on—which police may have overlooked in the past. “The guys who carry guns in their waistbands are also drinking beer on the corner,” McCarthy said, explaining the trickle-down approach to all-encompassing law enforcement. “And if you can stop a guy from carrying a gun in his waistband, you can stop the shootings over parking spaces, or over them bumping into each other and feeling disrespected.” 18 Harkening back to his days as a councilman sleeping outside housing projects to protest against drug dealers and subhuman living conditions, Mayor Booker unveiled the Safe Summer Initiative a few days into his term.
The program designated fourteen troubled housing developments as safety zones, and ﬂ ooded them with police, clergy, and neighborhood volunteers.
Residents of places like Seth Boyden Terrace—one of the city’s oldest public- housing projects, where kids quickly learned to drop to the ﬂ oor of their apartment at the crack of gunﬁ re—watched movies, played basketball, and spent nights in sleeping bags under the stars. Job fairs and social-service booths ﬁ lled project courtyards during the day, and Mayor Booker showed up to lead an occasional game of Simon Says with the kids. 19 Those kinds of personal touches helped deﬁ ne Cory Booker’s administra- tion. Many politicians scheduled special times in which they opened their ofﬁ ce so that every day citizens could speak with their municipal leaders one on one. Mayor Booker took the concept a step further, heading out to the people in their neighborhoods every few weeks for “ofﬁ ce hours” in a school or other meeting place. Anyone who waited in line was entitled to a few minutes of the mayor’s time. The people griped about landlords failing to make apartment repairs. They vented about streets overrun with prostitutes and drug dealers. They occasionally appeared just to shake the mayor’s hand and offer compliments for some improvement or other. Most people came asking for help of some sort. Men just out of prison begged for assistance ﬁ nding employment. The mayor made few promises, but listened and offered advice—to speak clearly or dress better on job interviews, for example, or to bring a request to the proper city agency. He occasionally picked up his cell phone to send police to a problem alley or building inspectors to a housing complex. 20 Mayor Booker also “adopted” a few teenage boys. Not long after authori- ties had alerted the mayor to credible threats on his life from Bloods gang members, police arrested three teenage boys for breaking into a school and spray-painting the words “Kill Booker” in the hallway. Upon learning the trio vandalizing the school were not gangbangers but foolish juveniles from Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 271 broken families, Booker suggested that if prosecutors dropped the charges, he would become the teenagers’ mentor. “The streets chew up black men like you,” the mayor sternly told the boys, who stared at the ﬂ oor in the prosecutor’s ofﬁ ce and quickly agreed to the proposition. Booker arranged weekly tutoring sessions with college students for “the boys,” as they became known. He dragged them to church on Sundays, taught them how to tie neckties, played dozens of games of Uno and Risk, and took them to dinners where he relentlessly corrected their English. All the while, Mayor Booker dished out life lessons in the role of wise older brother. “Life is about focus,” he said over dinner one night with the boys. “What you focus on, you become.
If you focus on nothing, you become nothing.” 21 There was only so much one man could do, however. Taking the boys to the movies once a week or letting them play video games in his apartment wasn’t going to miraculously turn their lives around. After the teenagers bristled under the barrage of lectures, Mayor Booker eased up on grammar lessons and the constant pearls of wisdom. Progress occurred, but it was limited. One of the boys started earning better grades in school, but another dropped out and stopped showing up at outings with the mayor. 22 There was the obvious realization that Mayor Booker could not take every one of Newark’s thousands of at-risk teenagers under his wing. He likewise couldn’t answer each of the requests for help at ofﬁ ce-hour meetings. Also, no technological advances, statistical studies, or innovative approaches to law enforcement seemed capable of swaying many Newarkers out of their ingrained instinct to reach for a gun to settle disputes. The mayor’s much- hyped Safe Summer Initiative yielded mixed results. Crime dropped in the designated safe zones, but the number of homicides citywide leapt in the weeks after Mayor Booker took ofﬁ ce. As a result, by August 2006, there were seventy-seven homicides in Newark, compared to sixty during the same period the previous year. 23 The police department’s Fifth Precinct, which the mayor toured with the media on his ﬁ rst day in ofﬁ ce, received a $410,000 renovation the following spring. The tired, old building was transformed with bright paint, clean, new tiles and toilets in bathrooms, and freshly unboxed computers. Such improvements may have helped police morale, but they failed to slow the killings in Newark. Under Director McCarthy’s watch, overall crime dipped by 20 percent, but the murder rate didn’t budge. At the end of 2006, the year’s homicide count stood at 106, the most since a tally of 114 in 1990.
While about half of 1990s killings involved guns, nearly 90 percent of 2006’s homicides came as a result of shootings, indicating a growing—and alarm- ingly casual—culture of gun use. 24Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 272 r e bi rt h Mayor Booker always demanded that citizens hold him accountable, particularly in regards to crime. Frustration with the administration’s stilted progress—and what sometimes seemed like politics as usual—soon surfaced.
To the chagrin of the mayor and businessmen hoping to promote the city’s safe, welcoming new image, in early 2007 the Newark Teachers Union paid for a series of billboards that read, “Help Wanted, Stop the Killings Now.” Some Booker supporters, upon learning that patronage jobs wouldn’t be dispensed in the old Newark tradition, vowed to campaign for Cory Booker’s challengers in 2010. A backlash ensued after Mayor Booker ﬁ red more than 150 city workers and pressured hundreds more into accepting buyouts under the threat of layoffs—at the same time certain city employees were receiving raises. “The reformer has not reformed,” one labor union boss said, claiming that the layoffs and buyouts unfairly targeted workers who’d supported Sharpe James. 25 In June of 2007, more than three hundred Newarkers—many of them current or former city workers—crowded into city council chambers demanding that Mayor Booker be recalled. Wearing white T-shirts that read “Recall” and “We supported Booker and all we got was this lousy T- shirt,” they griped about the murder rate and the continued existence of patronage, but most of all about the impending layoffs. Amiri Baraka, in a vivid, emotional plea, announced at the city council hearing that, “Booker swept in like Hurricane Katrina.” 26 The criticism of Mayor Booker continued that summer when one of his speeches surfaced on YouTube. In it, the mayor spoke of the wisdom bestowed by a beloved, recently deceased Newark community leader. Booker described the woman at length, including the fact that she didn’t have teeth. Many Newark residents found the speech offensive, perhaps even racist, especially because it was given in front of an all-white audience. They thought the mayor was mocking the woman, giving validity to the old critique that the kid from the suburbs was out of touch with folks from the inner city. Also, in a widely-panned mistake, the city failed to promptly pay hundreds of young residents employed in that summer’s special work program. 27 Newark then drew national attention for the gruesome, cold-blooded murders of several young residents. The city had witnessed its share of horrendous crimes, but this incident was exceptional. It occurred in the West Ward’s Ivy Hill neighborhood, one of Newark’s better sections, lined with modest homes and plentiful trees near the border of well-to-do South Orange. Homicides in Newark were typically of the thug-on-thug variety, in which personal grudges or turf battles drove drug dealers, gang members, or foolish wannabes to target each other. The young people attacked on the night of August 4,2007, on the other hand, were universally regarded as good Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 273 kids. They’d all played in the high school band. One had dreamed of being a preacher since he was a young child. He was ordained as a minister at age fourteen and sometimes gave sermons at Sunday services. All of them had avoided the pitfalls that trapped so many young Newarkers and were either in college or well on their way.
The evening was supposed to be an end-of-summer Saturday night hurrah among four close friends. Terrance Aeriel, the Bible-quoting preacher, and the youngest of the bunch at eighteen, was wiry and meticu- lously groomed, sometimes sporting a thin mustache and corn rows. He played the French horn and was due at band camp on Monday at Delaware State University, the historically black college he and two of the others attended. His sister Natasha, a year older than Terrance, was a psychology major at Delaware State, played the saxophone, and was set to head to band camp with her brother. Virtually everyone at Delaware State knew “Shawny,” or Dashon Harvey, twenty, who’d been a high school drum major in Newark. A lively cutup with a taste for fashion, Harvey was known for dressing up as rap icon Flavor Flav while campaigning on campus in the previous year’s “Mr. Junior” contest, which he won. Harvey planned on a career in social work after college. His outgoing personality helped land him a job in the college’s admission ofﬁ ce, starting the following Monday.
While her friends had been away at college, Iofemi Hightower, twenty, who went by her middle name, Sheena, had been strapped for cash. She worked preparing food at a nursing home and at Newark airport to save up money for college, and expected to join them at Delaware State in a few weeks for her freshman orientation. 28 To mark the end of the summer together in Newark, the foursome rounded up food, drinks, and music, and went to the Ivy Hill section’s Mount Vernon School at around 11 pm. They settled in at the playground’s aluminum bleachers, where they noticed two Latino men nearby. When a few more Latinos arrived, the four black friends exchanged text messages on their cell phones, wondering if they should leave. It was too late. The men approached in what initially seemed like a robbery. A resident living nearby heard a female voice coming from the schoolyard screaming, “Don’t do that!
Don’t do that!” over and over. Then he heard gunshots. Natasha was hit ﬁ rst, in the face. Her body slumped to the ground near the bleachers. The men marched the other three down a set of stairs and lined them up in front of the playground wall. At some point, one of the perpetrators slashed Iofemi across the forearms with a machete. The Latinos ordered the trio to kneel down facing the wall and shot each execution-style in the back of the head. 29 On Monday, the day when the college kids were supposed to have arrived at Delaware State, a mere thirty-six hours after the killings, protestors rallied Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 274 r e bi rt h on the steps of City Hall calling for Mayor Booker’s resignation. The mayor had clearly failed on many fronts, protestors cried, most obviously in his number-one priority of making the streets safe. At that point, no arrests had been made, and there appeared to be few leads. Video cameras mounted at the school provided no help; they’d somehow been vandalized and weren’t func- tional on Saturday night—another blunder for Newark. Reporters hounded Booker with questions, few of which the pale-looking, sleep-deprived mayor could answer deﬁ nitively. 30 With protestors still gathered at City Hall, James Harvey, father of Dashon, one of the victims, met with Mayor Booker. Many Newarkers expected the family members of the victims to follow the critics’ lead and lash out at the mayor. “I just want to say that I don’t blame you for what happened,” Harvey told the mayor. “I blame the parents in this city for not raising their children right.” 31 The two men hugged. “I really admire you for your courage,” Booker said. “I could use a little bit of that right now.” 32 Mayor Booker vowed that the perpetrators would be caught, and he called out for people to stop squabbling and come together. “We will either rise as a community or fall apart,” he said at a community gathering in the Ivy Hill neighborhood. On Tuesday night, Riverfront Stadium hosted a previously scheduled charity baseball game as a National Night Out Against Crime.
“Our city is stronger than these challenges,” the mayor told the crowd. “We will come together. I have been shaken but not deterred by this weekend. We can stand up and win this ﬁ ght against crime.” 33 Natasha Aeriel, the ﬁ rst of the foursome shot, had survived the attack.
She sat in a hospital with a bullet still lodged in her head. Though heavily medicated, she began describing to police what had happened.
Days passed without any arrests. “I’m on the verge of telling my guys to suspend civil liberties and start frisking everybody,” said a desperate- sounding Armando Fontoura, Essex County sheriff. 34 Finally, late on Wednesday, August 8, police arrested a ﬁ fteen-year-old Latino suspect who lived near Mount Vernon School. The following day, as Mayor Booker announced the boy’s arrest to the media, he received an odd message on his cell phone. Another suspect wanted to turn himself in directly to the mayor. Jose Carranza, a twenty-eight-year-old native of Peru and resident of Orange, was cuffed by the police in Mayor Booker’s presence as James Harvey, wearing a black T-shirt memorializing his son, watched.
Carranza, as it turned out, had been arrested earlier in the year in a bar ﬁ ght.
Just a month before the killings, he’d been charged with raping a girl over a period of four years, starting when she was just ﬁ ve. Despite the run-ins with the law—and his status as an illegal alien—Carranza was free on bail when the so-called Mount Vernon Massacre took place. The involvement of Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 275 an illegal alien in the killings brought an all-new level of attention to the case.
Talk-show hosts, bloggers, and presidential candidates weighed in on the country’s immigration policies, often criticizing so-called “sanctuary cities” like Newark which did little to rid their streets of illegal aliens. 35 Funerals were held on Saturday, a day after another ﬁ fteen-year-old suspect was arrested, and one week after the shootings. Some eighty Delaware State classmates of the deceased were bussed in for the services. Thousands packed the churches and overﬂ owed into the streets. Groups of activists wearing buttons that read “Enough is Enough” and “Stop the Killing Now” handed out leaﬂ ets and asked people to get involved in their communities. Speaking to the crowds, a humbled Mayor Booker asked forgiveness for his failings as a city leader. He also demanded justice. At the Terrance Aeriel funeral, he said bluntly, “Get this evil out of my city.” 36 “Everybody is ready to ﬁ ght a righteous ﬁ ght,” Mayor Booker vented that Saturday en route from one funeral to another. “We have no choice.
We’re being challenged right now. This is a deﬁ ning moment in the history of this city.” 37 Many observers echoed Booker’s sentiments. The universal sense of outrage provoked by the tragedy offered a rare opportunity for the city to break from its divisive ways and unite in “a righteous ﬁ ght,” as the mayor put it. A few months prior to the killings, the New York Times had printed a long story on the deeply entrenched reluctance of Newarkers to cooperate with police. In the “no snitching” code of the inner city, residents often refused to press charges, testify, or help law enforcement in any way, even when they themselves had been victimized. Yet in the aftermath of the Mount Vernon killings, everyone seemed to be actively supporting police efforts, starting with Natasha Aeriel, the lone survivor who bravely described the attackers, leading to arrests. 38 Newarkers turned out in large numbers for prayer vigils, where they cried, sang hymns, and placed hands on Mount Vernon playground’s bullet-scarred wall, sometimes while holding babies in their arms. Strangers arrived at the scene to pay their respects and place candles, balloons, photos, and hand- written messages at the makeshift memorial. Community groups raised $150,000 for the victims’ families. A meeting scheduled with the goal of raising $100,000 from corporate leaders and philanthropists for new high- tech video and audio surveillance equipment for law enforcement wound up with an outpouring of pledges to the tune of $3.2 million. Even the recall- crazed critics of Mayor Booker quieted down for the sake of the city. 39 The manhunt for the remaining suspects spread far outside New Jersey.
Two weeks after the murders, police tracked down Rudolfo Godinez, a twenty-four-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant believed to be a main player in Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 276 r e bi rt h the slayings, to a Maryland apartment crowded with day laborers. Godinez was in the country legally, but should have already been locked up. He’d been arrested several times for robbery and jumped bail in 2003. Police gave up looking for him in 2005. “How did you catch me? Someone told on me?” Godinez asked the arresting ofﬁ cers, sounding like a junior high kid rounded up for truancy. “You must be very smart.” 40 Godinez’s sixteen-year-old half brother, Alexander Alfaro, turned up shortly afterward, also in an apartment near Washington, D.C. The two had planned on escaping to El Salvador. The trail leading to their capture had started with Alfaro’s MySpace page. On it, police saw that Alfaro had friends in the D.C. area and concentrated their efforts there. The ﬁ nal suspect, eighteen-year-old Melvin Jovel, was arrested the following day in a hideout in Elizabeth. All of the suspects had lived or hung out in a high-rise near Mount Vernon School. They claimed afﬁ liation with MS-13, the vicious Latino gang born in Los Angeles in the 1970s, but police downplayed the attackers as mere wannabes. Apparently, the August 4 incident at Mount Vernon School was either a botched robbery or a misguided attempt for the group to somehow prove itself. 41 “Now the process of healing must take center stage, and the prosecution of the case begins,” Mayor Booker said upon the arrest of the last perpetrator. 42 The silver lining of the killings, that Newark might truly rally together and emerge out of the tragedy stronger, driven with a sense of mission like never before, was still very alive in the hearts of many citizens. Others weren’t so optimistic. “Nothing’s going to change,” one twenty-year-old resident told a Star-Ledger columnist. “People are going to be people, and Newark is going to be Newark.” 43 After Labor Day, the Ledger quietly noted on page 18 that the city’s sixty- sixth and sixty-seventh homicides of the year had occurred over the weekend.
Newark was on track to host fewer killings than the previous year, but the rate was still appallingly high. One of that weekend’s homicides was all too typical for Newark. A male was shot multiple times in the parking lot of a public- housing complex. There were no witnesses or promising leads. Meanwhile, across the Hudson River, New York City announced a 15 percent dip in murders over the year’s ﬁ rst eight months. The city was on pace to register the fewest homicides since it started tracking such statistics in 1963. 44 In late June of 2006, a week and a half before Cory Booker replaced Sharpe James as mayor, the two held a transition meeting at City Hall to get the new administration up to speed on ﬁ nances, public safety, the status of the arena, Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 277 and other issues. Advisors and department directors did most of the talking during the two-hour discussion, which, at least on the surface, was a fairly cordial affair. 45 Bitterness remained just below the businesslike façade, however. At the time of the meeting, Cory Booker’s lawyers were in court arguing for a judge to uphold a restraining order stopping the sales of some seventy real estate transactions involving city land. In the weeks after Sharpe James announced he wouldn’t run for a sixth term, there’d been a ﬂ urry of politically connected companies scooping up dozens of city lots—typically sold, as before, at the ﬁ re-sale rate of just $4 a square foot. After Cory Booker won the May election in a landslide, he successfully petitioned the courts to put a halt to dozens more such transactions. “We saw this as a very crass, blatantly greedy way of hijacking the city’s economic well-being for the beneﬁ t of a small number of private individuals,” explained Booker. “I felt I had the leverage of an imminent mayor, so I acted.” 46 Sharpe James mysteriously disappeared for several days after the transition meeting. He was back in Newark by July 1, but didn’t attend Cory Booker’s inauguration. James left his South Ward home in the morning, bound for Trenton, he said, to attend to his duties as state senator. People criticized James for skipping out on the historic switchover of power in Newark. Even more folks griped about Booker’s obvious failure to mention his predecessor in his forty-minute inaugural speech, which prominently saluted former mayor Ken Gibson, seated on stage. 47 In the mayor’s ofﬁ ce, Booker discovered a gift from James: a Bible. There was also a two-page farewell note, in which the former mayor boasted of the city’s “Sharpe change” under his decades of guidance “from one of the worst cities in America to a destination city.” James ended the letter with the suggestion: “Please turn to Luke 6:31—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 48 Perhaps Sharpe James highlighted the Golden Rule simply to pass on some age-old wisdom. Then again, maybe he was quoting the Bible in an attempt to save his own skin and avoid the scrutiny he must have known was coming.
A few weeks into his term, Mayor Cory Booker stared in puzzlement at bills from Sharpe James’s city credit cards. Almost no one had ever known about the existence of one of the cards, a Platinum Plus Visa listed under the police department’s account. The bills revealed where James had disappeared after the June transition meeting. With less than a week left as mayor, Sharpe James went to Rio de Janeiro with two bodyguards and an aide, racking up expenses over $6,500 at a four-star resort and top-notch restaurants. The Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 278 r e bi rt h extravagant trip was one of many James took to places like Puerto Rico, Martha’s Vineyard, and Key West, all on the city’s dime, and all ostensibly to conduct city business. For some of the trips, the city even covered the expense of shipping James’s Rolls Royce so the mayor could ride in style at his destination. The bills also showed that James charged taxpayers for Broadway tickets, NJPAC performances, and Toys“R”Us gifts. James had used the cards to pay for everything from White Castle hamburgers to thousands of dollars worth of movie admissions to the airfare for prominent African American politicians visiting Newark to campaign for him. Some of the charges would even cover James’s expenses after he left ofﬁ ce—a $9,000 advance on a luxury cruise departing in August 2006, a year’s rental fee for James’s storage unit. 49 The Golden Rule didn’t stop Mayor Booker from alerting federal prosecu- tors to the curious ways Sharpe James used city funds. The decision wasn’t a difﬁ cult one for Booker to make. “We had residents out marching against violence, teenagers getting shot with chilling regularity, police trying to do their jobs with tin cans and string,” Booker wrote, “and meanwhile, their leadership was leaving town to enjoy the Brazilian nightlife.” 50 Prosecutors opened an investigation and began issuing subpoenas. As the media grabbed hold of the scandal, out trickled more sordid details of James’s misuse of power and taxpayer money. Several young females whom investigators referred to as “travel companions”—everyone else called them Sharpe James’s girlfriends—had regularly traipsed around the globe with James. Four of the women either had city jobs or contracts with the city, and all enjoyed special treatment from Sharpe James. When one of the “companions” hit a wall with a redevelopment proposal, for example, James intervened and ﬁ red members of the city’s historic commission so that a landmark building could be razed and the plans could continue. 51 Tamika Riley, another of James’s travel friends, was a publicist in her early thirties with a background in fashion when she entered Newark’s real estate market with startling success. Riley, who had no experience in development, purchased four rundown city-owned homes in August of 2001 for a total of $16,000. By the following spring, she’d unloaded them to buyers for over $330,000 altogether. She then bought three more city properties for $18,000 and resold them one month later for $115,000. In February of 2005, the city again offered Riley two properties for $6,000 a piece, whereupon she resold one a month afterward for $100,000, and the other a few months later for $150,000. All told, Riley’s $46,000 in real estate purchases yielded her proﬁ ts of nearly $700,000. Only a judge’s restraining order stopped Riley’s attempts to buy three more city parcels in the spring of 2006. 52Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. s ta n d u p 279 As the investigation continued, James seemed to anticipate the inevitable.
He issued a press release stating he wouldn’t be running for reelection as a state senator because “it is time to spend more time with my family, win a senior national tennis championship and to ﬁ nish writing the last chapters of my autobiography.” 53 He announced his retirement from a short-lived $150,000-per-year stint as an Essex County College administrator, and with- drew $500,000 from his $1.1 million retirement account. 54 Some information sought by prosecutors had conveniently disappeared by the time Cory Booker became mayor. The hard drives of computers used by the James administration, for example, were long gone. Even so, in mid-July of 2007, when the ﬂ ags at City Hall ﬂ ew at half mast to memori- alize the fortieth anniversary of the Newark riots, federal prosecutors had enough evidence to indict Sharpe James on thirty-three counts of fraud and depriving the government of honest services. The charges revolved around James’s use of city credit cards and real estate transactions involving his close friend Tamika Riley, who was named a codefendant. 55 The day after being indicted, the brash, old Sharpe James replaced the one who’d lately been keeping a low proﬁ le. James strolled through City Hall in shorts and sneakers, joking with security guards and spouting to anyone who would listen, “They got nothing. That’s why I’m here. To say ‘hi’ to my people.” One city employee called the performance “pathetic, regardless of whether he’s done anything or not. I wish the man would show more dignity.” 56 The indictments landed in Sharpe James’s lap as more and more signs demonstrated that the renaissance he’d promoted for so long was indeed legitimate. One population study revealed Newark as the fastest-growing city in the Northeast. After steadily losing residents for half a century, Newark had grown by 3.3 percent since 2000. Over the same period, median income had jumped by 28 percent, nearly double the national rate of increase. The median price of Newark homes skyrocketed by 180 percent between 2000 and2007, representing the steepest rise in Essex County. Hip new pockets of commercial activity percolated, particularly along Halsey Street, where young entrepreneurs opened upscale restaurants, an art-supply store, and a yoga center. Cogswell Realty, the company that revamped the National Newark Building, was nearing completion on another monumental renovation around the corner: Eleven80, a sleek residential high-rise with unheard-of amenities such as a basement bowling alley, health club, indoor basketball court, on-demand massages and pedicures, and round-the-clock concierge, valet parking, and car pickup services. The ﬁ rst of its kind to open in Newark in decades, the swanky apartment building was designed to compete with Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 280 r e bi rt h rentals in Manhattan, Jersey City, and Brooklyn, at a fraction of the price those locations charged. Cogswell had also gained control of the old Hahne’s department store and several other abandoned old buildings in the vicinity of Military Park and was proceeding with plans to develop them. 57 Sharpe James deserved credit for steering along such improvements, most of which had originated during his administration. After Cory Booker took ofﬁ ce, however, a slew of new faces who’d never before seemed interested in Newark came forward with development proposals. Many of the people taking a fresh look at Newark would say, off the record, that in the past they couldn’t bring themselves to do business in the city during the James admin- istration. It was too risky, they’d say, what with the city seemingly cloaked in corruption and incompetence. The city’s hot condo market demonstrated the effects of Newark’s changed reputation under Mayor Booker. In the ﬁ rst ﬁ ve months of 2007, twenty-two condo projects, representing a total of 770 units, got off the ground. By comparison, only 155 condo units had been approved in Newark over the prior ﬁ ve years. 58 A few months after the James indictment, NJPAC, one of the former mayor’s crowning achievements, celebrated its tenth anniversary. The arts center had attracted some ﬁ ve million patrons in its ﬁ rst decade to top- notch performances by the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Lauryn Hill, Yo-Yo Ma, and Sonny Rollins. Though ticket sales failed to generate as much revenue as originally hoped, and the state had to continue paying millions in annual subsidies to keep the center aﬂ oat, NJPAC was largely deemed a success. As projected, the arts center had brought the masses into Newark and inspired a resurgent transformation of downtown. 59 Around the same time, Newark hosted a red-carpet ribbon-cutting ceremony for another of Sharpe James’s monumental visions. The downtown arena James had dreamed of for at least two decades opened to much fanfare in the fall of 2007 as the ﬁ rst major new sports facility in the metropolitan area in twenty-six years. It’s safe to say that, under the current circumstances, James didn’t quite enjoy NJPAC’s anniversary or the christening of the Prudential Center arena, as he’d once imagined. By then, the former mayor faced the humiliation of corruption charges and allegations of womanizing.
James had also been widely ridiculed after claiming to be too broke to pay his defense lawyers—puzzling in light of his yacht and Rolls Royce, $125,000 annual pension from the city, million-dollar retirement account, and owner- ship of properties worth in the neighborhood of $3 million. 60 The guiding force behind the Prudential Center sat in the third row of the ribbon-cutting festivities wearing a black suit, alligator shoes, and a tie and baseball cap emblazoned with the Devils logo. He arrived alone, and Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. stand up 281 joked with reporters that he planned on becoming a backup goalie for the team. Then he shifted in his seat uncomfortably as his former partners in the project, including Governor Jon Corzine and Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek, thanked dozens of dignitaries and never once uttered the name Sharpe James. Mayor Cory Booker, however, immediately credited his predecessor for the “strength of a South Side bulldog” which had made the arena a reality.
“He faced a lot of criticism—from some good-looking critics, I must say—to make sure this vision truly kicked off,” Booker said coyly. James folded his arms as others applauded Mayor Booker and didn’t comment when asked about Booker’s kind words. “I worked more with Jeff Vanderbeek and other people,” James said, steering the focus back to the renaissance born under his watch. “It’s good to see that we’ve started things that will change the economic viability of Newark for the next 50 years. And it’s even more beautiful than we had imagined.” 61 James wasn’t invited to speak at the event and had to awkwardly look on as cameras ﬂ ashed around the men cutting the ceremonial ribbon with a giant pair of scissors. Tensions dissipated somewhat when Booker and James embraced in a jovial bear hug. 62 The consensus of opinion declared the Prudential Center, or “The Rock” as it was called in light of Pru’s corporate nickname, a fantastic place to catch a sporting event or concert—vastly superior to the older arena still open for business in nearby East Rutherford. Immense video screens and a pair of enormous, glass-enclosed cylindrical entranceways welcomed spectators into Newark’s arena. The amenities inside were unparalleled in such a venue:
ample luxury suites attended by concierges and wine sommeliers, restaurants with tables overlooking the arena ﬂ oor, a sleek lounge with a bar made of real ice, ﬂ at-screen TVs in every direction (six hundred in total). The steep seating arrangement ensured there wasn’t a bad view of the action in the house. 63 The area outside The Rock didn’t receive quite such stellar reviews. Parking facilities weren’t built hand in hand with the arena, so the city put together a confusing hodgepodge plan designating nine thousand spaces from ﬁ fty-six different lots for arena parking. Most spots sat within a ten-minute walk of the arena, and on event nights the streets were ﬂ ooded with police ofﬁ cers to ensure the safety of patrons. The Prudential Center had been drawn up as the centerpiece of a major redevelopment with hotels, restaurants, parks, ofﬁ ces, shops, and residences, but on opening night, parking lots and gutted brick buildings dominated the views from the arena’s massive picture windows. Two new bars near the arena bustled with activity, and Ironbound restaurants saw a brisk business, but fast food was the only dining option immediately outside the arena. The hotel, community center, and ofﬁ ce Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 282 r e bi rt h tower promised by the Devils weren’t even designed. Improvements that the city was responsible for, including a triangular park, entrance plaza, and pedestrian bridge over the train line connecting to the Ironbound neighbor- hood, had likewise failed to materialize. If and when the periphery projects were completed, the total cost of the arena would top $500 million, not even close to the original $300 million estimate. 64 There was some indication that parts of the development would never come to fruition as planned. A few months before the Prudential Center’s opening, a judge declared that the city had failed to prove that a fourteen-acre site starting one block south of the arena was blighted. The James adminis- tration had claimed the ramshackle area of old homes, stores, and industrial sites was in such poor condition that it should be razed and transformed into new condominiums. 65 Newarkers watched the opening of The Rock with mixed emotions. They were certainly happy that more than half the arena’s jobs went to locals.
Much about the arena, however, gave residents the impression that this place—like other aspects of the downtown renaissance—didn’t have them in mind. Many people of color were turned off by the high ticket prices and a roster of events that seemed aimed mostly at white suburbanites, starting with ten nights of rock band Bon Jovi followed mostly by hockey. Street vendors and small businesses in the city’s core felt like they’d soon be pushed out due to higher rents and policies designed to appeal to arena patrons.
Rather than facing westward into the heart of the city, the arena’s main entrance welcomed outsiders coming into Newark from the train station to the east. From the city’s main drag of Broad Street, the arena looked like a large, blank, beige wall. Many Newarkers felt snubbed, as if the designers purposefully placed the arena’s backside in their direction. “They’re saying, ‘kiss my butt,’ to City Hall—and all of us,” said Amiri Baraka. 66 The news in Newark through the end of 2007 was likewise mixed, with progress begrudgingly occurring in the form of three steps forward, two steps back. The state department of education, after conducting extensive studies and interviews with Newark public-school employees and parents of students, decided that after a dozen years of state supervision, the city had not yet proven itself ready to fully take back control of the school system. The state granted a limited amount of autonomy back to locals, however. 67 Scandal touched the city council when Keith Reid, Council President Mildred Crump’s chief of staff, was snagged with ten other New Jersey public ofﬁ cials for accepting bribes in a federal corruption sting. Crump and the council were also embarrassed by the publication of a coloring book featuring historic Newarkers to be distributed to school kids. The Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. stand up 283 council had approved $10,000 for four thousand copies of the publication, which included crude renderings of all nine council members but left out important Newark natives such as Philip Roth, Whitney Houston, and Sarah Vaughan. The books were rife with misspellings and grammatical and factual mistakes. Then, in a move demonstrating that they were absurdly out of touch with the public, the city council formally announced a boycott of the Prudential Center’s opening festivities—not because the Devils hadn’t fulﬁ lled their obligations to build a community center, but because Newark’s municipal government hadn’t been allotted one of the arena’s luxury suites free of charge. 68 Comments from citizens regarding the boycott quickly ﬁ lled the online forum at nj.com: “Waah! Waah! Waah!… They really think they are royalty . . . Awwww, no luxury suite . . . Typical politicians.” At the same time, most Newarkers seemed happy with their mayor. Polls showed that more than a year into his term, Cory Booker was well liked by 58 percent of residents, a sensational approval rating for the leader of a big city. While welcoming developers and new businesses, Mayor Booker oversaw the destruction of many of Newark’s derelict buildings, including the Lincoln Motel. An eyesore adjacent to Riverfront Stadium, the motel had been a seedy per-hour joint, then a shelter for the homeless before closing its doors in2000. The Brick Towers complex, where Booker had lived from his days as an upstart councilman until the dilapidated buildings were abandoned in2006, was also ﬂ attened. The mayor continued his crusade to reclaim city land sold on the cheap by the James administration. Booker planned to make better use than his predecessor of the recouped lots and other city properties. Plans went forward to sell them at market rates, or perhaps at mild discounts if development plans served the public through affordable housing or recreation areas. 69 At year’s end, Newark’s murder count stood at 99, down slightly from the unusually high mark of 106 in 2006. The overall number of shooting victims had fallen off far more sharply: 383, compared to 493 the previous year. One law-enforcement think tank was impressed enough with Newark’s efforts to single it out as one of the most successful cities in the country in terms of decreasing violent crime. 70 The Devils sold 23 percent more tickets for hockey games at the Pruden- tial Center than they had the previous year at the Meadowlands. Whereas many brand-new arenas regularly packed seats to capacity, however, events at the Prudential Center rarely sold out. Plenty of seats at typical Devils games were empty, and thousands more went unused during Seton Hall University basketball games. The Rock scored an early coup by welcoming one of the country’s hottest music acts, teenybopper Hannah Montana, to Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. 284 r e bi rt h sold-out performances, but the Meadowlands arena had earlier won the competition to host many of the year’s big crowd pleasers, including Bruce Springsteen and Van Halen. 71 Like so much about modern-day Newark, the arena and the decrease in violent crime were impressive steps in the city’s long-fought recovery. But the end results were not quite as good as they could have been.
JAMES GUILTY. That was the Star-Ledger’s April 17,2008, large-type front- page headline. After ﬁ ve weeks of testimony and six days of jury deliberations, former mayor Sharpe James and his mistress Tamika Riley were found guilty on all counts of fraud and conspiracy involving the purchase and resale of city land; Riley was also found guilty of housing fraud and tax violations.
(The charges James faced involving misuse of city credit cards had earlier been separated into a different trial.) Around Newark and the metropolitan area, reactions to the verdict ranged from surprise to sadness to relief. Even Newarkers who believed that James shouldn’t be sent to prison generally agreed that the former mayor wasn’t exactly innocent. 72 James’s lawyers argued that the city council—not the mayor—had the ultimate power to sell city land. Yet prosecutors convinced the jury that it was indeed James who had played favorites and orchestrated the transactions, steering cheap land and easy proﬁ ts to his girlfriend, who was unqualiﬁ ed in almost every way to be a real estate developer. The jury heard testimony about how Riley had boasted of “a 24-hour direct contact” with James; how city housing ofﬁ cials were threatened for not cooperating with the mayor’s plans to sell Riley land; how one of James’s bodyguards, a twenty-one-year veteran of the Newark Police Department, was ordered by the mayor to install an air- conditioner—which the mayor paid for with a city credit card—in Riley’s Jersey City apartment while the ofﬁ cer was on duty. Riley’s lawyers portrayed their client as a good-intentioned “small-town girl” with “big dreams and small pockets.” Jurors instead believed the prosecution’s story of a manipula- tive, deceptive, and ambitious young woman who used her dalliance with a powerful older man to reap large proﬁ ts. Testimony even showed that at the same time Riley was ﬂ ipping lots worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and driving a $50,000 Mercedes Benz, she received nearly $30,000 in government housing subsidies due to her poor ﬁ nancial status.
Throughout the trial, Sharpe James rarely spoke to the press but projected an upbeat, conﬁ dent image. He brashly parked his Cadillac, which noted his status as a former senator and bore the personalized license plate “BIBLE,” illegally in a mall near the courthouse, rather than pay for parking. His car Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. stand up 285 was never ticketed or towed. At one point during jury deliberations, James swaggered down Broad Street, joking and taking pictures with folks along the way. He reached for the door to the current mayor’s Ford Explorer in jest, as if about to hop inside. Reveling in his celebrity, James hailed a public bus and spoke into the cell phone of a surprised fellow passenger.
After the jury returned its verdict, a Star-Ledger editorial correctly pointed out that Sharpe James was not the only ofﬁ cial guilty of impropriety, or at least laziness or negligence, when it came to wide-reaching city land giveaways. “City leaders chose to pass discounts on to builders, not to home- buyers willing to bet their future on Newark,” the Ledger wrote. “They chose to enrich those few at the expense of the residents and business owners who stuck with Newark through the lean times.” 73 “Sharpe James is guilty of betraying Newark’s future,” the Ledger editorial stated. “So are many others.” Fortunately, despite the misdeeds and mistakes of the past, Newark circa 2008 still had a future that looked remarkably promising.
The Prudential Center arena was largely living up to its vision as the modern face of the city’s renaissance. Critics griped that progress for the arena’s entrance plaza and redevelopment in the area was occurring too slowly. Essex County ofﬁ cials and Devils management also began lobbying the state to close the former Brendan Byrne arena in East Rutherford because competition was hurting the Prudential Center’s chances for success. “If they’re worried about ﬁ nances,” East Rutherford mayor James Cassella responded, “perhaps they should have thought about that before they went ahead with construction of the facility.” 74 Regardless, the city’s new arena had succeeded in bringing tens of thousands of newcomers into downtown Newark, and those that came almost always left very impressed.
More importantly, the city ﬁ nally seemed to be shaking off its legacy of violence. Newark experienced a drastic decrease in violent crime in early 2008. A stretch of forty-three consecutive days passed without a murder.
It represented the longest such streak since 1961. More efﬁ cient policing techniques, as well as a newly vigilant populace, were credited with the downturn in violent crime, which was too dramatic and long-lasting to be categorized as a ﬂ uke.
As if to close the door on the city’s reputation for murder and crime, eight months after the notorious triple murder of three young Newarkers a memo- rial garden was dedicated at Mount Vernon School, where the execution-style slayings took place. Amid freshly planted cherry blossoms and walls inscribed with inspirational messages, dozens of children released balloons, and the school choir sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” 75Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved. Tuttle, B. R., & Tuttle, B. (2009). How newark became newark : The rise, fall, and rebirth of an american city. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com Created from rutgers-ebooks on 2021-09-01 03:52:35.
Copyright © 2009. Rutgers University Press. All rights reserved.